On September 16, 2022, the Southwest Public Policy Institute filed a lawsuit against the New Mexico Taxation and Revenue Department (NMTRD). The lawsuit stems from a public records request filed with the Motor Vehicle Division, itself a division of NMTRD.
The request was simple: SPPI is seeking to inspect a database of registered vehicle information. The research project is part of our ongoing program to shed light on New Mexico’s electric vehicle mandates. These records contain the total number of vehicles registered by make, model, and year. This information is highly relevant and critical to SPPI’s ongoing analysis of the taxpayer-bourne cost of the electric vehicle mandate.
On October 7, 2022, the NMTRD responded with a document unrelated to the original public records request. This document contained an accounting of vehicles registered by year and the number of vehicles per engine cylinder count. This document does not allow SPPI an opportunity to inspect the database.
Furthermore, the document contains fabricated figures. According to the report produced by NMTRD, there are two vehicles registered in 2022 in New Mexico with cylinder counts of 150. There is no engine available now nor historically produced that has ever had a cylinder count exceeding 48. The Guinness Book of World Records notes that Simon Whitelock currently holds the world record for “vehicle engine with the most cylinders” for his 48-cylinder 2-stroke motorcycle.
Why then does NMTRD expect that this fabricated document fulfills its obligation to produce public records?
Another troubling aspect of the document itself is that the document was created after the public records request was filed. From the New Mexico Attorney General’s Inspection of Public Records Act Compliance Guide:
“The right to inspect applies to any nonexempt public record that exists at the time of the request.A records custodian or public body is not required to compile information from the public body’s records or otherwise create a new public record in response to a request.”
Analyzing the metadata from the original document produced by NMTRD, SPPI has found that it was created on October 7, 2022 by Srinivas Vallabhaneni, whose LinkedIn profile lists him as an IT Application Development Manager with NMTRD. Who initiated the directive to compel the creation of Vallabhaneni’s report?
To further complicate problems with SPPI’s request, a follow-up date of November 10, 2022 was promised by the records custodian for a completed accounting of responsive records. No such undertaking has been received, and SPPI submitted a written request to request to the department requesting a finalized production of documents. No reply was received.
Patrick Brenner, president of the Southwest Public Policy Institute, offered the following commentary:
“I’ve been working in the government accountability field for a few years now, and I have never before seen such egregious mistreatment of a public records request. The actions of NMTRD are indefensible. They are literally creating fake records with fake figures to respond to legitimate public records requests. How many other fake records are they creating?”
Every New Mexican should be terrified that their government’s tax collection arm is creating fake documents.