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Gregoire declines to veto cut to Sonntag’s performance audits

Post by Jordan Schrader / The News Tribune on June 16, 2011 at 9:35 am |
October 25, 2011 9:11 am

Gov. Chris Gregoire on Wednesday reluctantly signed into law portions of the state budget that strip money from performance audits of state government to pay for other programs.

The way lawmakers wrote the budget, Gregoire couldn’t veto the cut to Auditor Brian Sonntag‘s office without gutting the unit that investigates welfare fraud. I wrote about the complications in a story Tuesday:

She can veto it but can’t move money around within the budget, leaving no way to pay for investigations into fraud in social programs such as welfare and child support.

Not only would a veto eliminate the money for the fraud unit to expand, according to Gregoire’s budget office, but there would be nothing left to pay for the investigators who are already on the job.

Even performance-audit champion Tim Eyman acknowledged Wednesday that Gregoire was in “an impossible position.”

Eyman blamed lawmakers, who he said have a vendetta against Sonntag for making suggestions  they don’t like: “They’ve been trying to get at this guy for a long time, and this particular one was kind of a shot across the bow saying you don’t have independent funding.”

He says the Legislature is trying to whittle away at Sonntag’s budget, something denied by lawmakers — even by House budget chairman Ross Hunter, who didn’t particularly like the proposal to transfer audit money to other programs. The plan originated in the Senate, and Hunter’s own House version of the budget wouldn’t have made the transfers — but he downplayed the difference between the two.

Both budgets gave Sonntag the same amount to spend, Hunter said. They just moved money around differently to do it. The different funding scheme allowed lawmakers to pull down more federal money for health care, he said. That was hard to turn down in a tough budget year.

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