March 3, 2009

Toledo Blade Reporter Names Party (GOP) of Auditor, But Not That of Governor (Dem) Who Is Late With Financials

Filed under: MSM Biz/Other Bias,Taxes & Government — Tom @ 11:35 pm

ohioYou’ve got to hand it to Jim Provance of the Toledo Blade. He managed only to identify the party of a Republican in a story that is primarily about a Democratic administration’s failure to produce timely financial statements.

Democratic Governor Ted Strickland, his administration, and his appointed Democrats in Ohio’s Office of Budget and Management are not going to have the state’s records in auditable condition until after the General Assembly passes the budget for the NEXT biennium beginning July 1 of this year. This is a situation that Republican State Auditor Mary Taylor yesterday called “unprecedented.”

So “naturally,” Provance identified Taylor’s twice party in his report covering the situation, and failed to specifically name the party of any other statewide official — or Strickland himself. Oh we can infer it, but inferences don’t show up in search engine results. The words “Democrat” or “Democratic” are nowhere to be found.

Here are the key excerpts from the story:

Ohio auditor calls late ’08 figures ‘unprecedented’

If the state of Ohio were a local government or school district, State Auditor Mary Taylor would have declared it unauditable and started imposing fines by now.

Instead, there’s little more the Republican auditor can do than complain, knowing that by the time the books are officially closed on what the state collected and spent in fiscal year 2008, the state budget for 2010 and 2011 will probably already be law.

“How will the governor know where to go fiscally if he doesn’t know where he’s been?” asked Ms. Taylor.

Gov. Ted Strickland is currently pushing a $54 billion budget for the next two years, but his administration has yet to turn over the numbers for fiscal year 2008 for the required annual audit. The fiscal year ended June 30, 2008, but, 246 days later, as fiscal year 2009 nears its end, Ms. Taylor is still waiting.

The only Republican currently holding statewide executive office, Ms. Taylor said the numbers are typically available within six months of the close of a fiscal year and audits are usually completed by the following spring.

“The governor’s concerned about the delay, and he’s asked [his Office of Budget and Management] and other agencies to pull the information together as quickly as possible,” said Strickland spokesman Amanda Wurst.

….. Ms. Taylor said she’s been told the numbers won’t be forthcoming until June. Her office will need about 14 weeks to complete the annual audit once the numbers are received.

….. Ms. Taylor said she was concerned that further delays might endanger the state’s credit rating, currently the second-best rating available.

“Now is not the time to delay reporting important financial information to Ohioans,” said Ms. Taylor. “We face an extraordinary budget deficit, the highest unemployment rate in over 20 years, and an unprecedented federal bailout. The governor must assure Ohioans he is serious about accountability and transparency and that their tax dollars are being spent legally and appropriately.

The Blade is the same paper that wrote or carried 1,000 stories (I’m not kidding) on Republican Tom Noe, whose sour coin investments cost the state, then governed by Republican Taft, millions of doll– …. oh wait, it turns out that Noe’s malfeasance cost the State “only” a few million, because the state has recouped most of what was originally lost.

I say “only” because Democrat-supporting investment adviser Mark Lay, like Noe, was in charge of investing a portion of the state-run Bureau of Workers Compensation investment funds. Lay lost $216 million in an offshore investment fund; that money is not coming back. If the Blade did 20 stories of its own on Lay’s losses other than those fed to it by the Associated Press, I’d be surprised.

Like many other US newspapers, the Blade has seen its circulation drop. Its daily circ was down 10.5% to a shade under 120,000 in the three years ended March 31, 2008, while the Sunday Blade was down 16.8% to 147,000 and change during the same time period (PDFs with circulation figures for the Top 100 US newspapers as of 3/31/2008 and 3/31/2005 are here and here, respectively).

The Toledo area’s unemployment rate has been the worst or nearly the worst in the Buckeye State for at least the past year, while the Blade leads the charge blaming everyone but the dominant Democratic Party for that situation. Perhaps if the Blade put more resources into fair and balanced reporting, along with hard-headed analyses of what ails the Glass City area, things might be different — for both Toledo and its paper.

Cross-posted at NewsBusters.org.

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UPDATE: From a NewsBusters commenter claims to have received this from Provance — “I should have mentioned that the governor is a Democrat. I mentioned Ms. Taylor’s party affiliation because she is of the opposite party of the person she is criticizing. Just a fact that should be put out there. I should have taken the next step of noting the governor’s party.” A timely revision would be nice; getting it right the first time would be nicer in the future.

WHAT?! State of Ohio Is Months Late with Audit, Probably Won’t Be Done Before Next Budget Biennium Begins (with a Year-Ago BizzyBlog Warning Sign)

Filed under: Taxes & Government — Tom @ 3:19 pm

(Originally posted just after midnight)

From the Columbus Dispatch yesterday afternoon (bolds are mine):

Ohio’s finances only a guess because records lacking, state auditor says
Strickland blames delay on shift to new payroll, accounting system

Raising questions about Ohio’s financial condition, state Auditor Mary Taylor says she is unable to complete the annual audit of the state’s books because Gov. Ted Strickland’s administration has not provided the necessary financial records.

State law sets deadlines for local governments to submit such data or be declared “unauditable” and face fines, but the requirements don’t apply to the state itself. The state is blaming the delay on the move to its new $158 million payroll and accounting system, which is designed to add efficiency.

The lack of an audit for fiscal year 2008, which ended on June 30 of last year, comes as the legislature is debating the two-year budget that takes effect July 1.

“How will the governor know where to go fiscally if he doesn’t know where he’s been?” Taylor asked at a news conference today in Columbus. Taylor is the only Republican to hold a nonjudicial, statewide office in state government.

Strickland is concerned about the delay and has told the state budget office and agencies to provide the needed information as quickly as possible, but the statements aren’t expected until June, spokeswoman Amanda Wurst said.

That would put the estimated completion date for the audit into late summer or early fall — about 450 days after the 2008 fiscal year ended.

In case it didn’t sink in:

  • The Strickland administration is woefully late with its very first full-year set of financials on its watch. (His crew shared the fiscal year ended June 30, 2007 with the Taft administration.)
  • The State Legislature, in Ohio’s most challenging economic environment in a long time, will probably be forced into cobbling together a biennial budget for July 1, 2009 through June 30, 2011 without seeing ANY audited results of what happened during the first biennium.

If a publicly-traded company is this late with its financial statements, it faces sanctions from the SEC and shareholder problems up to and including litigation. A certain percentage of companies switches accounting systems every year. If any of them ever used a systems switchover as an excuse for being late with financials, they’d be in danger of being laughed off the exchanges. Heads would more than likely roll.

(added at 10:45 a.m.) If a private company misses an audited financial statement deadline imposed by a lender, the lender usually has a right to call their loan(s).

(resume original post) But when a government entity like Freddie Mac, or Fannie Mae, or the State of Ohio is late …. oh well.

This lateness is very odd, because the Director of Ohio’s Office of Budget and Management reported on July 10 of last year (in a PDF that can be found here) that the books were closed, and one would think by implication, ready to be audited.

What’s more, the report’s cover letter claims that what is now being cited as the reason the audit can’t get done on time was overcome, if you will, in the process of closing the books and getting through the accounting year (bolds are mine):

July 10, 2008

MEMORANDUM TO: The Honorable Ted Strickland, Governor
The Honorable Lee Fisher, Lt. Governor

FROM: J. Pari Sabety, Director

SUBJECT: Monthly Financial Report

This report contains final information for State Fiscal Year 2008.  All months of SFY 2008 are now closed in the Ohio Administrative Knowledge System (OAKS) General Ledger.  June financials are highlighted in this report and an appendix item contains the final revenue and expenditure tables for each month of FY 2008.

On June 30th Ohio ended the year with an unobligated General Revenue Fund balance of $807.6 million, less than 1% variance from the $801.8 million balance estimated at the time of budget recalibration in February 2008.  Our ability to finish FY 2008 with a secure balance was directly related to actions undertaken for the budget recalibration.  This success was contingent on partnership from state agencies to reduce spending plans through the last four months of FY 2008, their strict observance of enhanced hiring and equipment control procedures, and their success at managing mission-critical operations with lower budget thresholds.

As you are aware, this is the first time that we closed a fiscal year with the new OAKS Financials (sic) System.  I would like to recognize the hard work of my staff and the OAKS team in accomplishing this goal. Additionally, I would like to thank all agency OAKS Financials users throughout the state for their collaboration and patience as we worked to close out FY 2008 and prepared to begin the new fiscal year.

There may be a lot more to this story than a “mere” timing problem, which is obviously bad enough.

Posts here at BizzyBlog in January and February of 2008 noted extremely large “pending (unclassified) payroll” items in Sabety’s monthly OBM report six and seven months, respectively, into the new fiscal year, and presumably the same amount of time after the cutover to OAKS. These pending items were well over $300 million in each month, and represented payroll expenses that had not been assigned to their proper department(s).

Did state accountants properly classify these expenses, or it is possible that they just arbitrarily allocated expenses to departments without detailed support? If so, Ms. Taylor’s concern noted above that the governor not only doesn’t know, but will not know where he has been is legitimate.

This looks like anything but a shrug-off story.

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UPDATE, 10:40 a.m.: From a Toledo Blade report by Jim Provance, who seems to take comfort in the idea that “there’s little more the Republican auditor can do than complain” (while the word “Democrat” or any variant appears nowhere — zheesh):

Forty villages, townships, schools, and other government entities are currently on the unauditable list. Local entities have deadlines ranging from 60 to 150 days after the end of a fiscal year to turn over financial statements for mandatory annual audits. Such entities can be fined $25 per day up to a maximum of $750.

State funding for charter schools is cut off immediately under state law when they are declared unauditable.

Ms. Taylor said she was concerned that further delays might endanger the state’s credit rating, currently the second-best rating available.

“Now is not the time to delay reporting important financial information to Ohioans,” said Ms. Taylor. “We face an extraordinary budget deficit, the highest unemployment rate in over 20 years, and an unprecedented federal bailout. The governor must assure Ohioans he is serious about accountability and transparency and that their tax dollars are being spent legally and appropriately.”

Questions:

  • What did the governor know about the seriousness of the delays before Mrs. Taylor spoke out publicly?
  • When did he know it?
  • Most important, what if anything did he do about it?

If Strickland wasn’t fully aware of seriousness of the problem by November 15 of last year at the absolute latest (that’s about 135 days after year-end), there is a serious lack of communication at the state’s highest levels.

If we learn that Strickland was informed on a timely basis, and didn’t do anything substantive to address it, including redeploying qualified people from other areas within the state if necessary, his lack of action would reflect a fundamental unseriousness about carrying out his most basic executive duties.

Latest Pajamas Media Post (‘Paul Harvey Was ‘Equal Time’ in Fairness Doctrine Era’) Is Up

It’s here.

It will go up here at BizzyBlog early Thursday afternoon (link won’t work until then) when the blackout expires.

Press Virtually Ignores Joe Biden’s ’400 Jobs Lost a Day’ Louisiana Whopper

Did you hear the one about Joe Biden claiming that Louisiana under Governor Bobby Jindal is losing 400 jobs a day?

Probably not. A search at the Washington Post on “Biden 400 jobs Louisiana” (not in quotes) came back with no results. No relevant results were returned with the same searches done at the New York Times and the LA Times.

The math-challenged Biden, who infamously said during the presidential campaign that the word “jobs” has three letters (maybe you don’t know about that one either), made this false claim Wednesday morning, and almost no one noticed.

One exception was TV station KSLA, which filed this report (related but not identically scripted video can be found at link; direct link to vid is here). Reporter Fred Childress’s “Fact Check” told us that Biden isn’t merely wrong; the Bayou State actually gained seasonally adjusted jobs in December:

Reality check for Vice President Joe Biden

In giving the republican response to President Obama’s speech Tuesday night, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal pointed out fundamental differences in how republicans and democrats see the economy.

Wednesday morning on the CBS Early Show, Vice President Joe Biden asked, “But what I don’t understand from Governor Jindal is what would he do? In Louisiana, there’s 400 people a day losing their jobs. What’s he doing?”

But that claim is wrong if you look at the numbers from the Louisiana Workforce Commission.

“In December, Louisiana was the only state in the nation besides the District of Columbia, according to the national press release, that added employment over the month,” said Patty Granier with the Louisiana Workforce Commission.

“The state gained 3,700 jobs for the seasonally adjusted employment,” Granier said of the most recent figures.

Those numbers are available on Louisiana’s employment website, laworks.net.

The male in-studio anchor appeared to be a bit exasperated after Childress’s presentation, saying, “You need to get the numbers right, Mr. Vice President.”

If he can’t count to four, it’s not surprising that Joe Biden has a harder time with 400 (ah, there’s the excuse; “everybody know he’s a dummy, so it’s not news”).

Coverage at other media outlets was clearly sparse. A Google News search on [Biden "400 jobs"] (typed as indicated) came back with only two relevant results. One of them, from ABC’s Political Punch blog, showed up as a result only because the Biden gaffe was mentioned in a comment. The other was at Oklahoma’s NewsOK web site.

If a Republican Vice President had flubbed as Biden did, I daresay the three newspapers cited above and many more outlets would somehow have found space for it.

Cross-posted at NewsBusters.org.

Things I’d Like to Post About Today ….. (030309, Morning)

Filed under: TILTpatBIDHAT — Tom @ 8:52 am

Playboy tried to smear Rick Santelli’s rant as part of a vast right-wing tea party conspiracy. I would link, but the publication pulled its threadbare post without comment.

TPM Muckraker also pulled their related link, again without comment.

Uh, that doesn’t get it. Where are the “We were wrong. We are sorry” apologies?

Warren Todd Huston at NewsBusters has more, and notes that “while the fake story has been scrubbed, the claim of conspiracy is still floating around like a noxious cloud befouling the air. And, THAT, my friends, is how the left works. Scream the lie, whisper the retraction.

Megan McArdle at the Atlantic’s Asymmetrical Information blog (scroll down to Item 3 after her reproduction of what Playboy pulled; HT Instapundit) says that “The accusation against Santelli is potentially libelous, which is, I assume, why the article disappeared this morning. If I were Santelli, I’d sue.” McArdle also has a credible theory why it was pulled: Some of the alleged “conspirators” had a falling out some time ago. Oops.

Meanwhile, word of the story’s disappearance hasn’t reached the Atlantic’s Reihan Salam, whose related item is still up at Mark Ambinder’s separate blog at The Atlantic without a pullback as of 7:30 a.m.

Both Santelli and his employer CNBC (how about some backup, guys?) should at least threaten to sue to force a retraction.

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The Senate’s vote to give the District of Columbia congressional representation is blatantly and obviously unconstitutional. Ann Althouse says: “I don’t know how even to articulate an argument” to support it.

Without redefining boundaries, the only constitutional way to accomplish this goal, desirable or not, would be to amend the Constitution. That’s apparently too much work. I suppose another way around this might be to limit what is defined as DC to the immediate area around the White House and Capitol Building areas (which may or may not require a constitutional amendment), while having the rest of what is now DC apply to become a 51st state. I would suggest absorbing the freed-up area into Virginia or Maryland, but I don’t think either state would be interested.

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From an analysis by Emily Kaiser at Reuters:

U.S. companies, consumers and communities may grow so addicted to government financial help that cutting them off could trigger another recession soon after the current one ends.

One imagines this response from deep inside the Obama adminstration: “And your point is ….”?

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This is apparently controversial:

(Department of Justice lawyer and author of a search and seizure memo shortly after the 9/11 terorrist attacks John) Yoo wrote that the president could treat terrorist suspects in the United States like an invading foreign army. For instance, he said, the military would not have to get a warrant to storm a building to prevent terrorists from detonating a bomb.

The idea that the military or police would need such a warrant if such an operation was known to be in progress is madness.

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Non-shock of the day: President Obama’s U.S. Trade Representative nominee Ron Kirk has tax troubles. TaxProf has the roundup. Selected AP excerpts:

Ron Kirk, nominated as U.S. Trade Representative in the Obama administration, owes an estimated $10,000 in back taxes from earlier in the decade and has agreed to make his payments, the Senate Finance Committee said Monday.

….. Kirk routinely gave any speaking fees he earned to Austin College, the committee said, and did not list them on his tax returns.

Instead, the committee said he should have listed the fees as income, then claimed them as charitable donations. The estimated effect was to reduce Kirk’s tax bill by an estimated $5,800, according to the report.

Kirk also deducted more than $17,000 as entertainment expenses for the cost of Mavericks’ tickets. The committee said he substantiated about $9,900 of that amount, and will owe about $2,600 in taxes on the balance.

Silly question 1: Why didn’t the AP point out that Kirk’s speaking-fee gambit was designed to evade Social Security and Medicare taxes on self-employment income, the same taxes Tim Tax Cheat Geithner didn’t pay until he knew he was going to be nominated? (*) To pull this off, Kirk must have failed to report both the fees and his contributions; otherwise, any tax return software or tax preparer would have known that these taxes were due.

Obama’s nominees seem awfully reluctant to pour money into FDR’s supposed crowning achievement.

(*) – The chartible contributions also may have increased Kirk’s income tax liabiity if his actual contributions in total were more than 50% of his adjusted gross income. If that’s the case, he would have had to wait until future years to deduct the excess.

Silly question 2: What about penalties?

Silly question 3: Is anyone going to point out how lucky Kirk is that he’s from Texas, which has no state income tax — unlike Geithner and Daschle, who also have to settle accounts with the income-taxing states where they have lived?

It has moved beyond insulting that this administration continues to lecture the business community and others about ethical conduct.

Positivity: Hero, 12, Saves Boy, 5, from Rip

Filed under: Positivity — Tom @ 6:23 am

From New Zealand:

March 2, 2009

Cameron Turchie arrived in Mount Maunganui on Thursday hoping to test his surf lifesaving skills in the sporting arena.

He left last night knowing he’d passed the ultimate in lifesaving tests.

The 12-year-old Wellingtonian has been hailed as a hero after saving a 5-year-old from drowning at Mount Maunganui’s Main Beach yesterday.

Lyall Bay surf club member Turchie and two Paekakariki juniors Sadwyn Brophy, 13, and Temuera Forbes, 14, were competing at the New Zealand under-14 Ocean Athletes championships when they noticed a young swimmer in trouble about 3pm.

“I saw blood coming down his face so I swam out and held him up,” Turchie explained.
“The Paekakariki guys came out and helped me while another guy swam in to get the lifeguards.

“I was holding him up for about 2 minutes before I put my hand up, because I was trying to keep him up and make sure he was okay first.”

Brophy saw the drama unfold and said the young victim had been swimming with his brother in the heavy 2m waves when they got caught in a rip and dragged out.

“He said he’d seen a shark but I think he’d just hit his head on something because there was blood all down his face,” Brophy said.

“He was crying and couldn’t really talk properly.”

Mount Lifeguard Service senior guard Brent Warner noticed Turchie’s arm go up while watching from the club’s patrol tower.

“He just got his hand up once and then he couldn’t hold the kid and his hand up at the same time,” Warner said.

“I wondered if he was fooling around but then I saw his head go under as he was trying to hold the kid up.”

Warner and fellow lifeguard Quentin Cribb launched an IRB and sped out through the shorebreak, pulling the 5-year-old on board and taking him back to the beach where he was given oxygen and treated by event medical staff and two passing doctors.

He was then taken by St John ambulance to Tauranga Hospital for observation and released at 10pm. Medical staff who treated the boy said the blood may have come from a bleeding nose.

The dramas weren’t over for Turchie, meanwhile, who was still getting pounded by the waves which forced event organisers to shift the water events to Pilot Bay yesterday after Saturday’s programme was cancelled.

Another Mount lifeguard, Kent Rae, swam out with a tube to support the young hero, while world champion IRB driver Danny Morrison, from Mairangi Bay, launched another craft to help clear the beach.

“I was out there for another 3 minutes with the lifeguard who had a tube and we were going under waves until the IRB came back out to get us,” Turchie said.

Incredibly, it’s not the first time he’s been involved in a rescue – he helped a friend with breathing difficulties during a surf carnival at Wellington’s Worser Bay last year. That experience made all the difference yesterday.

“I sort of panicked once I got out there but because I’d done it once before, I guess I knew what to do.” …..

Go here for the rest of the story.