"We will do everything we can to have the state auditor be confident in what we do," Franchini told the Legislative Finance Committee. The panel was holding a follow-up hearing on the findings of a special audit released in September that documented some
The efforts to properly calculate and collect the money paid on premiums goes back several years, but it has been a priority since the Legislature appropriated
The possibility of having anywhere from
But not everyone agreed Franchini will do what he publicly proclaimed before the Legislature.
"I don't want to sugarcoat this," said Keller, a Democrat serving his first term as state auditor. Keller said his office has received mixed messages from Franchini and the Office of the Superintendent
Keller maintains Franchini has unilaterally discarded the method auditors used to calculate what is owed the state and came up with a new formula. Then the Office of the Superintendent
When asked if this happened, Franchini told Republican Rep.
But later in the hearing, Keller made the claim again and another lawmaker, Rep.
Franchini then acknowledged the invoices were part of an ongoing effort to settle the disputes but were not tied to the audit. Keller again chimed in that the invoices were dated in October, well after the audit was released.
"You told me none had been sent out," Hall countered to Franchini. "Your credibility with me is in a negative position."
The hearing was convened to try to work through some of the contention between Franchini's office, Keller's staff and legislative staffers. It came to a head when Franchini sent a letter this week to Attorney General
Keller defended Clifton, Larson & Allen, the largest accounting firm in the state that does dozens of audits for local government and state agencies, including the government's Comprehensive Annual Financial Report, the main fiscal document required by credit agencies.
In a statement given to The New Mexican on Wednesday, Keller added, "Instead of bureaucratic haggling, the superintendent should focus on collecting the millions of dollars owed to New Mexicans."
Keller said he does not believe there is any fraud or ill will by Franchini's office, but he said it is "underwater" and "we don't feel they can handle this issue."
The tax in question is paid by some 4,000 companies in the state that sell everything from health insurance to life, property and title policies. It is even paid by bail bond firms. But 60 percent of the taxes are paid by five health insurance companies -- and one of those firms owes more than
But the amount paid can be offset by credits and deductions, including money paid into a high-risk pool managed by the state for sick patients who cannot get coverage elsewhere. That pool is now being phased out, but many of the disputed payment amounts are traced back to the credits given for those payments.
Franchini acknowledged he had trouble hiring financial analysts, and accountants and his staffers now in place are sifting through the audit issues. One of those has been head of the auditing unit for just six months.
The Legislative Finance Committee is proposing several steps to get all the parties -- the insurance and auditor's offices as well as the
Among those are to refrain from any settlement negotiations until the amounts owed can be independently verified. Sallee is also recommending that any civil or criminal investigation into payment issues be reviewed by the
Lundstrom said there has been "a complete breakdown in trust" among the parties, and all should agree on a new work plan before moving forward.
"If there's money to be had, we need it sooner than later," Sallee added.
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