Secretary of State Mark Martin — he of the illegal Board of Apportionment spending, the $54,000-plus staff retreat and the fancy new SUV — has issued a news release saying his office finished $3.2 million under budget this year, money that could be spread around to many state needs.
Sadly, many in the media have already regurgitated this at face value. It is WRONG and MISLEADING in so many respects.
1) Constitutional officers have traditionally budgeted far more than their offices spend. It's good politically; it also provides a little budget cushion for unexpected emergencies. Typically, the state operates under the assumption that constitutional officers will spend about 85 percent of their budgets. Martin spent about 82 percent of his. Thus, he didn't really save 17.8 percent, as he claims. By way of comparison, in the previous fiscal year, Secretary of State Charlie Daniels had a budget of $17.8 million and spent
$15.1 $15.7 million.
2) Surplus money to pass around? No. An appropriation does not mean the money was set aside for spending. In the recent legislative session, the state had to increase the formula to fund constitutional offices by increasing the amount taken off the top of general revenues from 3 percent to 3.2 percent. This was necessary to insure the 85 percent rule of thumb could be met. The rest doesn't exist as surplus, for any purpose.
3) And what about next year? Surely Martin recognized during the session his office was over-budgeted. Maybe that's why he talked for a time about adding positions. Or did he continue the practice so he could continue to boast about his careful spending? Old-timers will remember this claim of frugality was a favorite ploy of Gus Wingfield, who rotated through several state offices after his legislative career ended. Martin is following Gus' footsteps in many ways, though I don't know if Gus ever matched Martin's legislative expense accounts ($50,000-plus per year).
UPDATE: The Martin office claims that their budget for next year was determined by the budget submitted by predecessor Charlie Daniels. If true, it need not have been. Employees of Martin's office were present in Joint Budget when that committee approved his budget for the next fiscal year. By then, Martin's staff well knew the office was overbudgeted. Did he ask for a cutback? He did not. In fact, this supposedly frugal leader actually asked for an INCREASE in the budget of the year that just ended. Martin asked for and got an increase in office appropriation from $18.2 to $18.6 million for the fiscal year that ends June 30, 2012. Why, instead, didn't he shout to Republican budget co-chair Gilbert Baker, "Wait! Cut my budget!"
We probably need to see, percentagewise, how other state offices did in coming in under budget. They invariably do. UPDATE: Jason Tolbert notes treasurer was $550,000, or 14 percent, under budget; auditor was $570,000, or 15.4 percent, under budget. Roby Brock notes governor's office was $1.5 million, or 25 PERCENT, under budget. Tolbert now adds Attorney General McDaniel was $3.6 million or 16.3 percent under budget.
Bottom line: This is meaningless, essentially dishonest political folderol proving not much, but cover for a politician who badly needed some. And who still isn't ready for prime time.