Auditor Tom Schweich’s office has released a report that says the office of Governor Jay Nixon made its finances look better by shifting expenses to other state agencies.
The audit says between January 2009 and June 2011, about $1.7 million dollars of the Governor’s office’s expenses were charged to other state agencies. That kept the Governor’s office and mansion from exceeding its appropriation in the state budget for each of the 3 years in the audit.
About $770,000 in salaries for several Governor’s office employees were paid wholly or in part by fourteen state agencies.
Auditor Schweich says the shifting of expenses to other agencies’ appropriations makes determining the actual costs of operating the Governor’s office difficult, as well as for the agencies involved. “For example in 2009 the Governor had $31,000 in charges from the airplane that exceeded his appropriation. They had originally been charged to his office. Somebody realized, ‘Uh-oh, we just exceeded the appropriation,’ and charged them off to another agency … that’s pretty direct proof that they knew they had violated the appropriation. They also knew it should have been charged to the Governor’s Office, and then in order to avoid or circumvent the appropriations process they just transferred that money right over to (the Office of Administration).”
The report says during the 30 months covered, Governor’s office employees flew 334 days on state planes at a cost of $565,000. 96 percent of that cost was paid for by various state agencies, who also paid for another $37,000 in travel expenses and $406,000 in various other operating expenses. Schweich says that has been noted in earlier audits by himself and his predecessor, Susan Montee.
The audit says 19 out-of-state flights on state planes cost about $92,800, and says the Governor’s office does not check to see if commercial flights would be cheaper. It also says most lodging expenses, especially for out-of-state lodging, lacked documentation explaining why costs were higher than the auditor’s staff thought necessary.
The report ranks the performance of the Governor’s office as “Fair” on the Auditor’s rating scale. Schweich says that means he will do a follow-up audit in 6 months or more.
A request to the Governor’s office for comment has been declined. Instead, a spokesman points to the Governor’s official responses included in the audit report.
To the findings regarding the charging of Governor’s office expenses to other agencies, the response was, “The office accounts for its operational costs in a manner that properly reflects the nature of the work it performs.”
To the findings regarding travel expenses, Nixon’s office responds, “The office follows state travel policy. On occasion, circumstances require some deviations from the policy but efforts to ensure the most cost-effective means are implemented. The office will ensure that such instances are appropriately handled. As to the extended lodging stay, that arrangement was based on particular circumstances surrounding a particular work assignment. The office does not foresee those circumstances arising again, but should they arise, will again ensure that the arrangement is reasonable and cost-effective.”
Schweich says he doesn’t want the audit to be perceived as political because of its timing. Its release comes nine weeks before the General Election in which Nixon is seeking reelection. Schweich is a Republican, Nixon is a Democrat. The Auditor says, “It’s very important to me that this office not be political.”
Schweich says his office tried to release this audit in June, but ran into two problems. “One was our auditor-in-charge before that time was in a serious traffic accident and we had to delay for a few weeks because of that … we also had a several week delay trying to get access to the (Governor’s) mansion to do the inventory and that delayed us by another month or so.”
Still, the state Republican Party has seized on the findings. Executive Director Lloyd Smith accuses Nixon of enjoying “the perks of being governor, wasting money on a taxpayer-funded plane, nice hotels and fancy meals.”
The State Democratic Party has not yet released a statement on the audit.