Here in the la-la land of fiscal accountability, another surprise:
The state Human Services Department has found $23 million its administrators didn't know they had. This just a month after department secretary Robin Dozier Otten told New Mexico legislators she was $8 million short of money for temporary assistance to needy families.
Relieved as they may be by the discovery, some of those lawmakers wonder why the department can't keep track of taxpayers' money entrusted to it.
Santa Fe's Rep. Max Coll, the House of Representatives' finance-committee leader, likened the discovery to a blind pig's stumbling across an acorn.
Otten dismissed the talk of serendipity. It was federal money she said, and her staff didn't finish its federal report on temporary-assistance money until November.
So why was she crying wolf in October? Back then, the excuse for the $8 million shortfall was a too-slow decline in needy-family caseloads, despite Gov. Gary Johnson's welfare reform.
But then it turned out the state had $18 million left over from its 1999-2000 budget year and another $5 million unspent from 1998-99.
Funny way of counting money you've got there, said Coll. Hard to find good help, said Otten; the deputy secretary for finance quit a couple of months ago, and there hasn't been an administrative services director since who knows when ...
In her defense, Otten hasn't had a lot of time to do the stabilizing she knows HHS needs; she's the seventh secretary in seven years.
But Otten should be warned: She'll encounter Coll's and others' sharp eyes again next month when the New Mexico Legislature convenes. Before she asks them for her 2001-02 budget, she'd better have a skilled bean-counter at her side.