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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 with 2 Comments »
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.

Leave a comment Comments → 2
  1. wmscott57 says:

    Another tragedy for the taxpayers of WA. The Em leadership in the leglature have been trying to stop Sontag for years. looks like they have finally found a way to make it happen. Sigh!

    Why do we keep voting for these people?

  2. Tax dude says:

    I like Sontag and hope he runs for governor. i also have voted for every single iman initiative and have even worked to gather signatures. I am also on his email mailing list.

    Having said all that I support Gregoires decision on this issue and let me tell you why.

    Performance audits are a great tool. They have been in place for several years now and have done a wonderful job. I feel that most of the low hanging fruit has been plucked. There are only so many state agencies to audit and auditing the same agencies in a short window of time isn’t really effective. I also noticed that Sontag hired some pretty expensive out of state accounting firms to do the audits rather than handle the work in house. Also of note, is when the performance audit comes back and findings and recomendations are made it is then at the descretion of the agency and the government to act . The high dollar savings claimed by the audit are never fully realized because the recommendations are never full implimented. Just look at the DOT ferry system audit.

    Now on to where the money is diverted to.

    A good chunk of the performance audit money is going to the Dept of Revenue audit division to hire 12 new auditors. The state conducted a performance audit of the dept of revenue and it got an A+ with only a few comments and zero recommendations for improvements. The dor spends about 4 cents to collect $1 in delinquent taxes. State auditor level ones make between $35k and $45k a year, are required to conduct a minimum of 30 audits. Audits average about a half million each. Unlike performance audits, these are not mere suggestions to the business audited. They actually owe that money and must pay it. So i feel this is a more efficient use of state budget money.

    so in conclusion, performance audits are great. We hadn’t done any in a while and they needed to be done and required more funding initially, but as we have hot most of the big targets the program doesn’t need as much money, though the program should continue. The diverted funds are not being wasted but going to an efficient and similar use. Also the performance audit program itself should be subjected to a performance audit. I don’t think it’s necessary to hire outside expensive accounting firms when there are a ton of auditors, cpa already on the state payroll who could do the work cheaper.

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