Colorado budget writers seek millions in undisclosed funds

96

DENVER  |  After former Gov. John Hickenlooper came under fire for how he spent money from a little-known account in his office, KCNC-TV has learned there are similar accounts throughout state government that hold millions of taxpayer dollars.

The money in the accounts comes from sources like federal dollars and legal settlements, and departments don’t have to disclose it to the legislature.

Democratic Sen. Dominick Moreno plans to change that will a bill he says the powerful Joint Budget Committee is drafting this year.

As vice chair of the committee, he has in-depth knowledge of state finances. But he says even he didn’t know about all the money state departments take in that isn’t reported, and that the legislature has no control over.

“The federal government provides money to individual agencies and then expects them to use the funding as they’ve outlined in federal statute,” said Moreno.

But as the account in the governor’s office revealed, oversight is sometimes lacking.

The Colorado Sun, which contributed to this report, notes that that account is paying ongoing legal bills related to an ethics complaint against Hickenlooper, who is running for U.S. Senate.

In its final months, Hickenlooper’s administration used federal funds from a 2003 account to cover a prominent Democratic attorney’s $525-an-hour fee and spent $13,385 for a legacy website designed to tell the story of how the governor and his team “paved the way for Colorado’s journey and growth.”

Republicans on the Joint Audit Committee asked for an audit of the fund after the questionable expenditures surfaced. Democrats shot down the request.

Moreno says he wants full transparency and is offering a bill to require it.

“We regularly get requests from departments that say, ‘We have a deficiency in this area, we need more resources.” But if we don’t have a complete picture of all the resources that those departments draw upon, then we can’t make an informed decision,” said Moreno.

Moreno says the governor’s office also distributes state dollars from an emergency response fund for things like the 2013 floods — but there is loose accounting there, too.

“There were a couple of line items that read, ‘Road: $2 million. Road: $500,000.’ And I’m like, ‘OK, which road? Which sections were approved?’ That’s the type of specificity that we expect and will hold departments accountable to.”

Moreno expects his bill will encounter some pushback. He says it will involve a lot of data collection and reporting by state departments.