LINCOLN — Gov. Dave Heineman attacked State Auditor Mike Foley Wednesday over the auditor's newly filed budget request.
At a press conference, the governor said he would not support the $354,000 request and suggested it contradicts Foley's claim to be a fiscal conservative.
“He should demonstrate by example, like the state treasurer has done, that he can live with a more fiscally conservative budget,” Heineman said.
But two key lawmakers defended the request, which equals the amount of money Heineman vetoed from the auditor's budget this spring.
Foley has submitted what is called a deficit budget request seeking an additional $177,000 for each year of the two-year budget period.
Deficit requests are those made after a budget period has started. The current budget period began July 1.
State Sen. Heath Mello of Omaha, the Appropriations Committee chairman, said Foley has served the state well through his office's oversight of state expenditures.
“In comparison to the amount of money he's saved the state, this is a drop in the bucket,” Mello said.
He and Sen. Jeremy Nordquist of Omaha said it appears politics are at play in the governor's opposition to the deficit request.
Foley is a gubernatorial candidate. While he and Heineman are both Republicans, they have clashed repeatedly over audits critical of state agencies.
“I'm sure Gov. Heineman would appreciate having a watchdog of his government not funded to the level he needs to be,” Nordquist said.
Foley said the deficit budget request would bring his office budget back to the level approved by state lawmakers this spring. The governor's veto cut the office budget to a level last seen in fiscal year 2005.
The governor offered little explanation for the veto, except to say it would put the auditor's budget at the level the governor had recommended.
A vote on overriding the veto fell short this spring.
However, lawmakers reconsidered the issue a few days later and introduced a resolution backing a deficit request in the 2014 session.
The resolution was co-signed by 34 lawmakers, including four members of the Appropriations Committee, the Speaker of the Legislature and Sen. Pete Pirsch of Omaha, the only announced candidate for auditor in 2014.
Foley cited the resolution in his deficit request. He said he has not laid off employees because of the resolution.
But he said he would be forced to reduce staff if the additional funds are not approved. The amount vetoed by the governor represents a 7 percent cut from the last fiscal year, which ended June 30, and equals three auditor positions.
The governor did not make similar vetoes in the budgets of other elected officials. The budget for the governor's office remained flat from fiscal year 2012-13 to the current fiscal year.
Making the cuts partway through the current fiscal year would mean cutting at least four positions and making other reductions, Foley said.
“It would be a downsizing of our office, which seems to be the goal here,” Foley said, adding that his office has been targeted “because we've been effective.”
Contact the writer: