January 27, 2010

Where did $50 million go? Auditors find loose ends from last year’s budget

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By Andy Rosen
Andy@MarylandReporter.com

Maryland government agencies will have to reconcile more than $50 million that was misplaced, forgotten or unaccounted for in fiscal 2009, according to an audit released this week.

The report from the Office of Legislative Audits looked at the closeout of the fiscal year, and finds that several agencies miscalculated their assets or debts at the end of last June. The explanations range from federal cash that never got claimed to money that was counted twice.

Del. Steven DeBoy, D-Baltimore and Howard, House chair of the legislature’s audit committee, said he is never pleased to find agencies leaving money on the table. Though he is still reviewing the report, he said he doesn’t see the findings causing a big problem during the budget process.

But DeBoy, who sits on the Appropriations Committee, said individual agencies will have to answer for the findings during this year’s budget process.

“For every dollar that they can’t find, it makes our lives that much more difficult,” he said.

Legislative Auditor Bruce Myers said his office finds loose ends after the close-out of every budget year. He suggested a tempered reaction to the figures, though they are higher than last year’s nearly $40 million. He said many agencies can find the money they’re missing within the budgets they already have for this year.

“Most of the balance, that will get resolved the next year,” he said, “but there will be new things.”

One of the items, a shortage of $13 million in federal money that the Maryland State Department of Education thought it had gotten, has shown up on year-end audit reports several times. However, the report identifies several things that may require budget fixes this year.

For instance, the education department told the office that it plans to ask for state money to cover the $13 million gap this year.

DeBoy said state agencies need to do a better job collecting federal money that they are owed.

“State agencies aren’t very good at that,” he said. “And that perplexes me.”