Making government as efficient as possible is a great way -- maybe the best way -- to trim spending.
Yet, the Legislature seems to have missed that point as lawmakers diligently cut nearly $5 billion in spending requests over the past few months in an effort to bridge the revenue shortfall the state faced for the next two years.
The budget approved by legislators diverts $9.4 million from the performance audit program run by state Auditor Brian Sonntag's office. Performance audits were instituted by the voters when they approved Initiative 900. This program essentially calls for audits of agencies to look for ways to run their operations more efficiently.
To this point, the program has been a great success.
Sonntag is asking Gov. Chris Gregoire to veto the transfer of $8 million, about half to the Department of Health Services to investigate welfare fraud and the other half to the Department of Revenue for tax audit recovery. Sonntag argues diverting performance audit funding to support unrelated activities at other agencies sets a bad precedent for future use of the funding source established by I-900.
Sonntag is correct.
"Our Office has used performance audit to offer ideas to save millions of dollars, generate millions more in new revenue and make government work better for all of us," Sonntag wrote to Gregoire. "... We believe that it is important for our Office to keep providing cost-savings, ideas and suggestions that are being produced by our quality performance audit work. That is what state citizens demanded and expected when they overwhelmingly passed Initiative 900."
Sonntag suggests -- again correctly -- the tax audits should be funded through the $343 million collected in back taxes through the tax amnesty program and the welfare fraud investigation should be funded through dollars recovered by the DSHS fraud unit.
Sonntag's office has taken hits to its budget just like other state agencies. He isn't whining about that.
The auditor's concern is for the future of the performance audit program.
We would urge Gregoire to veto the diversion of funds. Lawmakers can't be allowed to pick away at the performance auditing funding until the program is no longer effective.
The performance audit program has made state government more efficient and has paid for itself with the savings and new revenue it has generated.