Governor Richardson’s Unconstitutional Spending

Since 2003, Governor Bill Richardson has been spending tens of millions of dollars of public funds without Legislative authorization. These funds have been received into the state treasury under Federal economic relief and stimulus bills. Richardson has unilaterally been deciding how these funds should be spend, in violation of the state constitution which rests the power to appropriate public money solely with the Legislature.

Jim Scarantino, the Rio Grande Foundation’s investigative journalist, looked into the situation. Scarantino, in his new report “The Governor’s Unconstitutional Spending of Public Funds without Legislative Authorization,” found that starting in 2003 the Legislature through inaction let Richardson determine how $61 million received under the Jobs Growth Tax Relief Reconciliation Act should be spent.

He gave $370,000 to his own office, $225,000 to the office of Lt. Governor Diane Denish, $2 million to the Rail Runner, $500,000 to his office of Natural Resources Trustee, and millions more to an assortment of recipients and projects determined by him. Those expenditures were made for vague purposes and without accountability. For instance, the grant to the Lt. Governor was for something described no more specifically than “various projects.”

The Governor has asserted control over $53.9 million received under the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act of 2009, known the “stimulus bill.” He vetoed legislation asserting the Legislature’s power to appropriate these funds. Unless the Legislature acts quickly, he will shortly spend these funds without Legislative oversight.

A recent decision by the South Carolina Supreme Court upheld the state legislative authority to allocate funds and rejected arguments similar to those made by Richardson. Litigation may be the only way the Legislature can avoid again abdicating its constitutional powers over appropriations to an aggressive governor. The full report is available here.