Senate kills proposal calling for more transparency on state-issued credit cards

By Mary Markos BOSTON HERALD | May 29, 2019 

A proposal to give the auditor access to state-issued credit card records and keep employees accountable was shot down in the Senate budget debate process last week at the hand of the Ways and Means chairman, who said the measure was “duplicative.”

“I think it’s interesting because even if that’s true, why would you still vote against it,” Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance spokesman Paul Craney said. “That’s what I don’t understand.”

When Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr (R-Gloucester) presented the amendment Thursday, he said it was “critical to accountability,” specifically for state-issued credit cards for state employees.

“Ensuring the transparency and integrity of state employee credit card usage is in the best interest of taxpayers; spending should only be for appropriate expenses regardless of if it was run through a ledger or the swipe of a credit card,” Tarr told the Herald. “Simply put, the citizens who are required to pay the government’s bills need assurance that their money is being used appropriately.”

A few hundred employees who have the state-issued credit cards, also known as the P-card system, have charged more than $6 million according to Tarr, including for flights, meals, and Uber rides.

“Our goal is not merely to give authority to the auditor, she has conducted some limited audits of credit cards in the past, but rather to make it explicit that these credit card transactions should not escape as much accountability as we can provide,” Tarr said.

Sen. Michael Rodrigues urged the Senate to vote no Thursday, saying the state auditor already has the statutory authority to do so. He declined to comment Wednesday.

“It is not necessary,” Rodrigues said last week. “I hope the amendment is defeated.”

The amendment was in fact defeated by a vote of 33-6.

Auditor Suzanne Bump’s office confirmed that the auditor already has access to state-issued credit card data, which is reviewed on a case-by-case basis. Bump’s office referred to two most recent audits that found problems with state-issued credit cards from the Bristol County Sheriff’s Office in February 2019 and the Helen Y. Davis Leadership Academy in November 2018.

“Every organization that spends the taxpayer’s money must be held accountable,” MassGOP Chairman Jim Lyons said. “What is it about open and transparent that the Democrats don’t understand?”

Sen. Ryan Fattman (R-Webster), who co-sponsored the amendment and voted for it to pass, said it’s a legislator’s “fiduciary responsibility” to taxpayers to make sure reforms happen before new revenue when formulating a state budget.

“Transparency is the currency of democracy, and the currency of our state agencies is taxpayers dollar, and that certainly requires oversight,” Fattman said. “While unsuccessful, this amendment was a priority of the senate Republican caucus to ensure accountability and credibility in spending the money of those we are elected to represent, and I was proud to co-sponsor it.”


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