Monday, May 09, 2011

Audits save money so cut Auditor's ability to do them

Washington Legislature thinking: Hobble the program that led to added tax revenues of $321 million - $264 M for the state and $57 M for local jurisdictions.

The Legislature and Governor are happy beyond belief that an extra cash infusion came in - just in time to ease the budget deficit they caused. But they want to kill the program that generated the idea that caused the windfall: State Auditor's ability to conduct performance audits. Performance audits look beyond if the dollars are spent for their intended purpose - the scope of regular audits - to ask "is the State getting value out of this program?" Which leads to the question are the results a good value for the money spent on the program.

The powers like getting big smiles for passing out your tax dollars for good programs, but they don't like the results being measured and questions being asked.

The business tax amnesty was passed by the Legislature during the special session last December, but State Auditor Brian Sontag's performance audit program generated the idea for it. Washington State Wire

Washington State Wire

Just as lawmakers are cheering an unexpected $321 million that will bail out the state budget, they’re thinking about whacking the program that made it all possible.

   It is the inside story of the “May Miracle” announced by Gov. Christine Gregoire on Tuesday. The money came from a tax-amnesty program run by the state Department of Revenue – a wildly successful effort that generated more money than anyone dreamed.

The cash comes just in time to save the Legislature’s bacon...

... That the performance audit program is responsible there is no doubt. Sonntag’s office outlined the idea in a “performance review” of state government in December 2009. It noted that 46 other states had run tax-amnesty programs since the early 1980s, forgiving penalties and interest if people would just pay up. In the previous two years, 16 states had raised a total $1.4 billion.

But Washington had never done it.

The auditor’s office gathered information from the Department of Revenue to make the case. “I think they deserve credit,” said Revenue spokesman Mike Gowrylow. “They contacted us when they did the original audit.”

So now...

But the Senate budget proposal transfers money from the account and gives it to other agencies – $3.2 million to the Department of Revenue for additional auditors, $5.3 million to the Department of Social and Health Services for welfare-fraud investigations.

It may not sound like it makes a difference, but it is one of those subtle distinctions that mean plenty in Olympia. After an account has been raided once, it sets a precedent, and it can happen again and again, until finally there isn’t much left.

Oh... The Legislature never let the ability to do performance audits pass their gate and live. It was Initiative 900, passed by voters in 2005, that enabled them. Those voters again. And Tim Eyman!

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