(The Center Square) – Georgia Department of Labor officials said the agency caused a delay that could affect the state’s financial rating.
Senator Steve Gooch, R-Dahlonega, said the state could run the risk of losing its AAA rating unless the state auditor receives additional documents from the Georgian Ministry of Labor (GDOL) to complete the state’s comprehensive year-end financial report.
GDOL Commissioner Mark Butler said the agency closed the last minute request for additional information on Friday, calling the public outcry a “smear campaign”.
GDOL spokesman Kersha Cartwright said auditor Greg Griffin’s office had confirmed receipt of the documents by Tuesday. She told The Center Square that Griffin’s request was not only unexpected, but also came at a time when the agency was already under a heavy workload.
“These reports are extensive and it’s something we’ve never been asked about,” said Cartwright. “So we can’t just run into the programming we had in the past. We have to write a program to run a query, and they’re the same core people who work seven days a week right now.”
Rating agencies assign grades to states based on their ability to repay debt and their fiscal health. The higher the rating, the lower the state’s interest rates when it borrows. Governor Brian Kemp announced in August that the state had received the highest rating – AAA – from all three rating agencies. Only nine states have retained the AAA rating that Georgia has held for the past decade.
“Nothing is more important to the auditor and our state’s finances than maintaining its AAA bond rating, and we use this a lot in our conversations with business developers to talk about how healthy Georgia has been over the past eight or ten years” Gooch said during a Senate committee meeting Monday.
Butler said GDOL presented the auditor with the same documentation in the fall that it presented every year, but he received an additional request on December 23, just before the holiday break, that took just seven days to complete. Butler said he and Griffin agreed on a 45-day deadline and that GDOL filed the reports within 30 days.
“We had told them that the only way to get them through by the end of the year is to stop all coding and just put all of our programmers on request, and that’s just not feasible,” Butler said. “You have people waiting for unemployment benefits. You have the federal government, [U.S. Department of Labor]We breathe down our throat and want to make sure we achieve the goals they set us. Plus all the programming of what we had to do to get out all the 1099 that the IRS needs. “
In a January 19 letter to Butler, Griffin said his office could not achieve its goal this year because it “had not received certain information in a timely manner and other requests for information were pending.”
Griffin said he didn’t receive the performance payment file until mid-November for analysis.
“We have also requested a similar post-year performance payments file and have been told we should expect it to arrive sometime in February. If that file is not received until February, it could delay the CAFR release until March or April.” so Griffin said.
Griffin also requested information on fraud inquiries, overpayment cases and details of pending legal remedies.
The auditor’s administrative director, Carol Schwinne, said she would not be able to comment on the matter until the audit was completed under state law.
Gooch said a hole in the financial report could impact millions of dollars in transportation improvements.
“We’re in the process of refinancing hundreds of millions of dollars in bonds, I think for them [Department of Transportation] about some much needed projects in the future, “said Gooch.