Senate smacks state energy office

Audit results in swift action from lawmakers

DENVER – Legislators tightened the screws on the Colorado Energy Office on Monday after a scathing audit showed the office’s accounting was so poor it could not prove it had done anything to advance renewable energy in Colorado.

The agency, which is part of the governor’s office, could not properly demonstrate the merits generated from $250 million in spending since 2007, including $144 million from Congress in the 2009 stimulus bill, the audit said.

Senators voted to cut 25 percent of the office’s funding for the last quarter of this budget year, which runs from April through June.

“This puts them on a short leash,” said Sen. Pat Steadman, D-Denver, chairman of the budget committee. “We’re watching. If they want to remain funded through the last quarter of the fiscal year, they better make some changes.”

It was a rare example of the Legislature using its power over the state budget to punish a state agency.

The cut amounts to about $700,000, said Sen. Lucia Guzman, D-Denver.

But Republicans wanted an even deeper cut – a quarter of the office’s budget for the whole year, which is already halfway over.

“When you have no idea where money is going, you have only one option, and that is to say right now, today, no more money goes out the door,” said Sen. Owen Hill, R-Colorado Springs.

The office gives out grants related to energy. During Gov. Bill Ritter’s administration, it focused on energy efficiency, wind and solar power. Gov.

John Hickenlooper broadened the mission to include promotion of natural gas, oil and coal.

The House still has to approve the cuts, and Democrats hinted they could restore the budget later this year if Energy Office officials show improvements in its accounting system.