Have you ever misplaced $31 million? Did you ever check your online banking app believing there was $31 million in your account but later realized your math was off and your balance was zero? The Louisiana Department of Revenue miscalculated its balance by close to $31 million. When the Louisiana Legislative Auditor's office confronted Revenue Secretary Kimberly Lewis Robinson about the $31 million error, she got defensive and claimed her people were experienced and knew what they were doing.
“This isn’t something we just started to do,” said Robinson.
The audit blamed the $31 million miscalculation in part on Robinson's department's poor internal controls, inadequate training and supervision of staff, and an ineffective review of the Annual Fiscal Report.
“The issues identified in the finding do not warrant the levying of criticism such as that stated in the last two paragraphs of the official report. Suggestions that (the Revenue Department) lacks good internal controls over financial reporting, inadequate training and supervision of staff, and an ineffective review of the (Annual Fiscal Report) are unfounded,” Robinson wrote Legislative Auditor Daryl Purpera in response to the findings of an audit released the day after Christmas.
“If you overstate revenues, you’ll be trying to make decisions with money you don’t have,” Ernest F. Summerville Jr., director of financial audit, said Wednesday. “With the budgets we’re having, we need to have accurate numbers.”
Robinson promised to take a second look at the $31 million calculation.
"As always the department will review the audit looking for ways to further refine and improve existing procedures," Robinson said.
It turns out that "looking for further ways to refine and improve existing procedures" forced Robinson to admit $28.4 million of the $31 million was incorrectly calculated, as the Legislative Auditor had found. That's $28.4 million that we thought we had but didn't have in the state's general fund. Oops! Maybe they forgot a decimal point.
Robinson blamed the "misstatement" on an electronic submission system newly installed by the Office of Statewide Reporting and Accounting Policy. But Legislative Auditor Daryl Purpera isn't buying Robinson's excuse. He says his staff could find no indication of an error with the system and requested supporting documents that would detail the calculations. As of this writing, he's yet to receive such documentation.
This is all very fishy considering Gov. John Bel Edwards' consistent mischaracterization of the state's budget. You'll remember this time last year he claimed to have cut $400 million from the budget. But when the governor's Commissioner of Administration, Jay Dardenne, was asked about the $400 million during a legislative hearing, he said he would not characterize the money as cuts. Edwards characterized not increasing the spending of some departments as cuts. Only in the world of government is flat spending considered a cut.
Edwards has also greatly exaggerated the size of the much-hyped fiscal cliff, at first claiming he needed to raise taxes to fill a $1.6 billion budget gap. But he kept changing that number until it eventually shrank to half a billion. After a parade of special sessions, Republicans agreed to a sales tax increase, and in the end, we had a surplus. All those threats of evicting the elderly living in nursing homes and ending food stamps was nothing more than a bunch of hooey.
Edwards credibility on budget matters was further eroded when he recently wanted to spend the projected increase from the recent Revenue Estimating Conference, even though we don't yet know if those funds will materialize. House Republican leadership wisely blocked the governor from spending that money until we know we have it. House Republican leadership also saved Louisiana taxpayers hundreds of millions by not going along with all of the governor's attempted tax increases.
Thanks to the Legislative Auditor's Office, the governor will now not be able to spend $28.4 million his administration said we had but didn't.
Edwards campaigned on his strict adherence to the West Point honor code. It reads, "A cadet will not lie, cheat, steal, or tolerate those who do." It's a good thing for the governor the code doesn't say anything about exaggerating.
Email Dan Fagan at firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @DanFaganShow.