Monday, February 4, 2013

Give the Auditor more Authority!

Weekly Opinion Editorial
by Steve Fair

Today, the Oklahoma state legislature convenes their 2013 session.  The Governor will deliver the state of the state address to a joint session of the legislature.  Some of the major issues that will likely be addressed this session will be workers compensation reform, education funding, and the reduction or elimination of the state income tax.  When you throw in the water rights battle with Texas, tax credit reform, road and bridge funding, repair of the State Capitol building and prison overcrowding this session will be a busy one.

One area that must be up for discussion if we want good government is accountability.  Oklahoma government needs accountability to its citizens.  Last session a legislative bill that never reached either the Senate or the House floor for a vote would have expanded the role of the State Auditor & Inspector.  The amazing thing was the bill didn’t make its way to the floor because the leadership in the legislature ‘knew it would pass.’  That’s right- they knew that Oklahoma citizens wanted accountability and supported the expansion of the Auditor’s office, but they didn’t allow it to come to up for a vote.  That is not the type of government we need in Oklahoma.  We must have one that is responsive to the citizens.

Currently the Oklahoma State Auditor and Inspector has the constitutional authority to audit every state agency and county government agency.  Many want that expanded to include any organization or group that receives money from Oklahoma citizens in the form of a fee.  That would include the Oklahoma Turnpike Commission, dozens of state regulatory agencies, and many shadow government agencies. 

The opposition to the expansion of the State Auditor’s scope of authority comes from a variety of camps.  One camp argues that giving the Auditor more power would make the office more powerful than any other state office.  They say that while it’s fine for the Auditor to delve into corruption if invited, he shouldn’t be routinely trying to find corruption through regularly scheduled audits.  That is asinine.  The Auditor should be able to go over the books of any agency that gets a dime of taxpayer money- invited or not.  It’s certain that an agency involved in fraud or corruption is not going to invite an outside audit.

Another camp believes that it is growing government if the Auditor’s office is given more authority.  After all if you allow the Auditor to audit more agencies, it’s going to take more personnel and more money.  That is certainly true.  It costs money to audit agencies, but I know of no taxpayer who will complain if the Auditor’s office budget is increased to insure our tax dollars are being spent in the right manner.  In fact, growing the accountability side of government is infinitely more preferable than hiring more bureaucrats in state agencies. 

A third camp believes the Auditor’s office should be appointed.  They advocate taking the vote away from the people and giving the Governor the authority to appoint the Auditor.  If there is one office that must remain accountable only to the people, it must be the Auditor.  While Oklahoma does have eleven statewide elected officials and some of the offices might be candidates for appointment, the Auditor’s office is not one of them.  The Auditor is the people’s watchdog making sure that tax dollars are being spent where they should be and rooting out fraud and corruption in government.

Every statewide elected office in Oklahoma is held by a Republican.  Both chambers of the State legislature are controlled by Republicans.  The State Auditor is a Republican, but one that has pledged to hold his fellow ‘R’s accountable to the people.  It’s time the legislature gave him the authority and the funding to insure we have transparency and accountability in state government.  Call your legislator today and ask them to expand the role of the State Auditor.

No comments: