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Tag: Brian Sonntag


Political Smell Test: False claim that $3 billion in waste was ignored

Deficits in Olympia and Washington, D.C. pose monumental challenges to whoever is in charge next year. Politicians have ideas for how to reduce the deficits, but some of them don’t add up. This is the second claim I’m looking at.

WHAT CANDIDATES SAY: A number of Republican candidates for the Legislature are citing State Auditor Brian Sonntag, a Democrat, in making the case that the Democrat-controlled Legislature failed to curb waste in state government.

They say Sonntag identified more than $3 billion worth of potential savings to state government in his audits, only to have the Legislature ignore his proposals.

At a candidate forum last week, 28th District House candidate Steve O’Ban said:

Brian Sonntag, a Democrat who I support because he’s doing his job well, has come out with $3 billion of savings for our state government, efficiencies, redundancies, not just in the ferry system but across the board, and virtually none of those have been adopted by the Legislature, even though the Legislature’s controlled by his party.

At another candidate forum months ago, 26th District Senate candidate Marty McClendon said: “When we were facing a $2.6 billion deficit, no other options were on the table except for raising taxes … Brian Sonntag found $3.8 billion worth of waste. (That) was not addressed.”

It’s an attractive talking point because it gives candidates an answer when asked where they would cut, without having to name specific programs.

In interviews, 26th District House candidate Doug Richards and 28th District candidate Paul Wagemann have both cited Sonntag. Richards said a projected deficit of $4.5 billion could be mostly solved by cutting “$3.2 billion” in waste and inefficiencies found by Sonntag: “That’s three-quarters of the problem right there.” Wagemann said Sonntag has issued more than 700 recommendations in his audits: “Our Legislature has virtually ignored these recommendations.”

THE FACTS: You can see all of Sonntag’s performance audits here. Their benefits do indeed add up to nearly $4 billion, and Sonntag highlighted the total in a December 2009 report that looks at the status of 705 recommendations:

From February 2007 through June 30, 2009, performance audits identified nearly $3.6 billion in cost savings, unnecessary expenditures and economic benefits.

The key phrase there is “economic benefits.” By far the largest savings, $3 billion, comes from a report he issued on reducing congestion in Puget Sound. It’s the amount that would be saved over five years — in economic impact to drivers and businesses.

In other words, it’s not savings to government. The recommendations don’t help state legislators balance their budgets.

The $3.6 billion number isn’t being described correctly, Sonntag said in an interview. “That captures a whole lot more than just what could be saved in a current state budget,” he said.

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Audit: Maintenance shop overpaid by $57,000

A state audit has found the Department of Natural Resources overpaid for equipment by at least $57,000 over two and a half years at its Tumwater maintenance shop.

The department fired three employees more than a year ago after an internal investigation, including a purchasing specialist who made questionable purchases from a personal friend and a relative.

The top supervisor at the shop and the fleet manager also lost their jobs. The fleet manager supervises all nine shops around the state that maintain and repair DNR vehicles, like cars and wildfire-fighting trucks, with a supplies budget of nearly $1.7 million.

Eight more employees were reprimanded. Another worker retired before the review finished.

The internal investigation found employees did not follow state law or department policy, according to the report released Monday by State Auditor Brian Sonntag’s office. In some cases, purchases were made without getting required price quotes from competitors.

The shop bought thousands of items, including engines, from a vendor without a state contract, at prices that the department found in some instances were 50 percent to 300 percent higher than similar goods and services from other sellers. The vendor had loaned an off-road vehicle to the purchaser, his friend, according to the audit.

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