After taking office in 2011, Gov. Susana Martinez slashed the budget for the Governor’s Office by about $500,000 to help address the state’s financial troubles caused by the recession.
“In a time of shared sacrifice, I felt it important to lead by example,” Martinez said in her State of the State address on the opening day of the Legislature in January 2012.
The annual budget for the Governor’s Office was $3.8 million when Martinez took office more than three years ago. It was $3.4 million last fiscal year, but the office spent only $3 million, reverting the difference to the state Treasury.
The issue is whether the administration really spends more than that on the Governor’s Office by bringing in employees from other state agencies without transferring their salaries.
As of Jan. 17, the Governor’s Office had at least nine people working there who were on the payrolls of other agencies. Their annual salaries and estimated benefits total about $870,000, meaning the true operating cost of the Governor’s Office may be close to what it was when Martinez took office.
In response to a public-records request, the Governor’s Office recently provided current and past internal-use telephone directories for the office dating back more than a year.
A directory for the Governor’s Office dated Jan. 17 lists phone extensions for 34 people, excluding the governor. Of those 34, only 25 were on the payroll of the Governor’s Office.
Most of the nine working in the office but not on its payroll had been listed in Governor’s Office phone directories dating back to December 2013.
The nine included secretaries earning as little as $37,000 a year and top government managers making as much as $91,000 from such agencies as the departments of Transportation, Corrections and Finance and Administration. The salaries for the nine total more than $600,000 a year. Average annual benefits for a state worker total about $30,000.
Also, a 10th person – the governor’s executive assistant – was transferred to the payroll of the Governor’s Office last fall after having been listed in the office’s phone directory for at least several months while on the payroll of the Health Department.
Rep. Luciano “Lucky” Varela, chairman of the Legislative Finance Committee, and Sen. John Arthur Smith, the committee’s vice chairman, say employees are needed at the agencies that pay them and they need to do those jobs.
“They should not be on the agency payroll and be working in the Governor’s Office,” says Varela, D-Santa Fe. “You’re taking that money from an agency and using it for another purpose.”
He adds, “If the governor wants them in her office, she should ask for (the funds to pay) them.”
Smith, D-Deming, says having employees in the Governor’s Office paid by other agencies “certainly lacks transparency, and that was one of the planks she (Martinez) ran on.”
Asked why the Governor’s Office phone directory lists employees paid by other agencies, Martinez spokesman Enrique Knell said in an email:
“These employees serve a variety of roles for the state and oftentimes work in the Governor’s Office so they can conduct their work more efficiently or coordinate issues across a variety of agencies.”
As an example, Knell cited David Jablonski, who is on the payroll of the Corrections Department at nearly $91,000 a year.
Knell said Jablonski is “centrally based in the Governor’s Office, where it’s much easier for him to work on integrating, coordinating, and overseeing the functions of the public safety agencies.”
Jablonski’s title at Corrections is director of Cabinet affairs, according to the Organizational Listing Report for government. The director of Cabinet affairs used to be on the payroll of the Governor’s Office. Jablonski has been listed in the phone directory for the Governor’s Office since at least December 2013.
Knell said it isn’t unusual for an administration to have a few individuals from other agencies posted in the Governor’s Office to achieve certain functions and goals. He also said the office shares two employees with the office of Lt. Gov. John Sanchez, although their full salaries are charged to Sanchez’s office.
Varela says he recalls the same issue surfacing with the administration of Gov. Bill Richardson but says he doesn’t remember how it was resolved after the Legislative Finance Committee objected. The employees may have been put on the payroll of the Governor’s Office or moved back to their agencies, he says.
Before the state’s recession-caused financial troubles, the Richardson administration had more than 40 budgeted jobs in the Governor’s Office.
UpFront is a daily front-page news and opinion column. Comment directly to Thom Cole at firstname.lastname@example.org or 505-992-6280 in Santa Fe. Go to www.abqjournal.com/letters/new to submit a letter to the editor.