DENVER– After a scathing audit of the Colorado Energy Office, the Colorado Senate wants the office to either account for $252 million spent over the past six years and improve internal accounting – or lose state funding. Though the Democrat and Republican lawmakers differed vastly on how to get the office under control, they unanimously passed a “wake up call” bill today.
The Senate at first approved, but later rejected an amendment to Senate Bill 88 to cut funding by 25 percent to the Colorado Energy Office (CEO) in the 2013-14 fiscal year proposed by state Sen. Owen Hill (R-Colorado Springs).
“It’s the strongest statement we can send to say we’re here to protect taxpayer dollars,” said Hill during second reading of the bill on Tuesday.
The CEO would have lost more than $1 million in funding under Hill’s amendment to Senate Bill 88, but that bill is a supplemental appropriation for this fiscal year requested by Gov. John Hickenlooper’s office which oversees the energy programs.
The Democrats switched stream and voted for an amendment to the bill proposed by state Sen. Pat Steadman (D-Denver) which essentially voided Hill’s amendment and instead approved an amendment to trim $700,000 in the last quarter of this fiscal year if the CEO failed to improve its accounting practices.
“It holds these folks accountable and signals our displeasure,” said Steadman.
State Sen. Kevin Lundberg (R-Berthoud) said Steadman’s amendment was a message of “Well, we’ll just kind of slap your hand a little bit.”
“No, no. I believe this is a big issue,” declared Lundberg of the CEO’s lack of accountability.
“It was pretty scathing,” said Steadman of the audit. However, he said Hill’s amendment was unrealistic because the CEO has probably spent the money and needs more to put accounting systems in place.
State Sen. Kent Lambert(R-Colorado Springs), a member of the Joint Budget Committee, said they had not been informed of the full audit report when the supplemental appropriation request was first prepared.
“We have a serious integrity problem with the state about how that money was handled,” said Lambert.
The Legislative Audit Committee Chair state Sen. Lucia Guzman (D-Denver) explained that they reviewed the audit and addressed the issues with CEO, but the committee can’t be punitive in its actions.
“We do not make decisions on these kinds of things,” said Guzman. “So this is, in fact, the right place for us to take steps.”
The Senate will likely pass the bill as amended Tuesday, and then moves to the House where it can be again amended.
The Colorado State Auditor performed a six-month study of the CEO and concluded that the documentation was so lacking, the office “could not determine the total cost or the total amount spent for any of the (34) programs it administered.”
The audit of records from 2007 to 2012 uncovered deficiencies in accounting for funds received and spent, executing and tracking contracts, monitoring and assessing work performed by contractors receiving loans and grants, and reporting of staff expenditures.
The CEO was created to promote energy conservation and independence in 1977, and revised its mission to focus on renewable green energy and weatherization projects under former Gov. Bill Ritter. Last year, Gov. Hickenlooper expanded the energy resource development to include oil, natural gas and coal.
State Sen. Ted Harvey (R-Highlands Ranch) thanked Steadman and the majority party for understanding there is an issue of CEO’s failure to be fiscally responsible.
“They better get their act together,” said Harvey.