SANTA FE ‚Äď Gov. Susana Martinez has clamped down on the Legislature‚Äôs watchdog committees in what some lawmakers consider an attempt to limit their oversight of the Republican governor‚Äôs agencies.
At the direction of the governor, administration agencies are telling the Legislative Finance Committee and the Legislative Education Study Committee that their requests for information must be sent first to the governor‚Äôs chief of staff, Keith Gardner, for his approval before the agency will respond.
The committees and their staff typically are in direct contact with agencies to seek data and documents.
‚ÄúShe‚Äôs drawing the battle lines, I guess,‚ÄĚ said Rep. Luciano ‚ÄúLucky‚ÄĚ Varela, chairman of the finance committee that oversees budget issues and regularly asks agencies about their spending.
Martinez personally called the committee‚Äôs staff director, David Abbey, this month to tell him of the new policy.
Varela said the governor‚Äôs directive to agencies is an unprecedented move to control the flow of information that the LFC is entitled to under state law.
The Governor‚Äôs Office won‚Äôt say whether a specific request from a committee or some other dispute with the Legislature prompted Martinez to implement the policy. Lawmakers, particularly Democrats, have been sharply critical of the administration‚Äôs decision to suspend Medicaid payments to more than a dozen mental health providers and replace them with Arizona companies.
‚ÄúExecutive agencies and departments will continue to provide requested information to the Legislature consistent with state law,‚ÄĚ a spokesman for the governor, Michael Lonergan, said in a statement in response to questions from The Associated Press.
‚ÄúThe governor is responsible for numerous agencies in the executive branch, so it is important to address those requests across all agencies to ensure that state government is functioning collectively, in a cohesive manner and not compartmentalized,‚ÄĚ he said.
Lonergan declined to comment further.
In an email last week to the staff directors of the two legislative committees, Public Education Secretary Hanna Skandera said the agency was complying with ‚Äúa directive from Gov. Martinez‚ÄĚ on information requests and ‚ÄúPED will not respond until the governor‚Äôs chief of staff has approved the request.‚ÄĚ
House and Senate GOP leaders said they‚Äôre puzzled by the administration‚Äôs actions.
‚ÄúIn this day of movement toward greater and greater transparency with regard to what we do with the people‚Äôs money and how we‚Äôre accountable for the use of those tax dollars, it makes more sense to be more open rather than more restrictive,‚ÄĚ said House Minority Leader Donald Bratton of Hobbs. ‚ÄúBy making all the requests go through one individual, then you create a bottleneck, and I‚Äôm not sure you get the transparency that you‚Äôre after for the public.‚ÄĚ
Senate GOP Leader Stuart Ingle of Portales said the LFC has the power to seek subpoenas to compel an agency or government official to provide information.
‚ÄúI hope we don‚Äôt get that far,‚ÄĚ Ingle said. ‚ÄúThe Legislature has a right to get reports from the executive‚Äôs agencies. I don‚Äôt really see where there is a problem there.‚ÄĚ
House Majority Leader Rick Miera, an Albuquerque Democrat and vice chairman of the education study panel, said funneling information requests through the governor‚Äôs chief of staff will hamper the Legislature‚Äôs oversight of programs.
‚ÄúTo think they all have to go through a filter. And that‚Äôs the way I am looking at it. It‚Äôs not just, ‚ÄėWell we have to keep track of them.‚Äô No. No. No. They‚Äôre filtering them. That puts us at a disadvantage,‚ÄĚ Miera said.
Varela speculates that politics are behind the governor‚Äôs decision.
‚ÄúI recognize that the governor is circling the wagons because she is running for re-election and she doesn‚Äôt want to get too severely criticized,‚ÄĚ Varela said.