Oppose unwise, unconstitutional audits scheme

Essay At A Glance

Washington’s initiative profiteer is back.

Tim Eyman, recovering from the spectacular demise of Initiative 892, is now hawking a new proposal: Initiative 900, which would give the state auditor’s office unchecked power to do performance audits.

The concept of doing performance audits has been around a long time – the state auditor has long been in favor of them, and for the past couple years, House Democrats have passed bills that would have mandated performance audits for state agencies.

And this year, the House again passed a bill mandating performance audits for state agencies – HB 1064 – which was also approved by the state Senate and signed into law by Governor Chris Gregoire.

Meanwhile, with Michael Dunmire’s money, Tim Eyman has been paying petitioners to collect signatures for Initiative 900. A close look at Eyman’s proposal reveals it’s built on a shaky foundation and doesn’t accomplish what Eyman says it will.

Initiative 900’s Section 5, we’ve learned, seems to run afoul of Amendment 11 (Article VIII, Section 4) of the Washington State Constitution.

Section 5 states, in part: Only the state auditor or the state auditor’s designee may authorize expenditures from the account. The account is subject to allotment procedures under chapter 43.88 RCW, but an appropriation is not required for expenditures.

Amendment 11 states, in part: No moneys shall ever be paid out of the treasury of this state, or any of its funds, or any of the funds under its management, except in pursuance of an appropriation by law; … and every such law making a new appropriation… shall distinctly specify the sum appropriated, and the object to which it is to be applied, and it shall not be sufficient for such law to refer to any other law to fix such sum.

This isn’t a surprise, as Eyman initiatives are known for their defects and flaws. But it illustrates that once again, voters are being asked to consider proposal that may not be constitutionally sound.

Eyman has indicated that he wants the state auditor to audit everything – every last agency, program, and account – every year. And he doesn’t want to stop at state government. Eyman wants local government audited, too.

The state auditor’s office has previously told Permanent Defense that Eyman’s proposal could cost $90 million dollars every biennium – or $45 million every year – a whopping sum to consider.

Eyman apparently doesn’t realize the true cost of his plan, because he’s only allocated $10 million for I-900 each year.

The state auditor’s office has also recently told Permanent Defense it doesn’t believe Initiative 900 will force them to audit every agency in the state (including local governments) every year.

If this is true (and we’re certainly inclined to believe the research from the state auditor’s office) then the office would use a risk-based approach, choosing specific governments, or types of governments, where performance audits can produce the greatest benefit for citizens and those that are audited.

State Auditor Brian Sonntag is well-respected, but he won’t be in office forever, and that leaves us pondering this question: What if we get a state auditor with a political agenda who will use performance audits as a weapon to go after local governments?

It’s a concern the Legislature addressed in its own proposal (which is now law). EHB 1064 created a citizen advisory board to work with the state auditor and also prevent the auditor from having too much power.

Checks and balances have always served our nation well, and helped keep the government accountable to the people.

The auditor’s office says that Initiative 900 does not supersede EHB 1064, nor does it eliminate the citizen advisory board. But it does mean the auditor will enjoy far greater power and could, to some extent, ignore the citizen board.

The office has also told Permanent Defense that this proposal would require the auditor’s office to expand four times its current size. Four times? Eyman has always been against any increase of government bureaucracy. Now he’s for it? It appears that additional staff will be necessary.

What’s more, it will take from five to twelve years to implement the proposal.

Eyman’s failure to come up with a reasonable proposal is not a surprise. Tim has never been in favor of a serious and honest discussion about taxation and budgeting – he prefers lies and myths that will spur people to believe in his ideas, which brings him more money and attention.

The Legislature  has already passed performance audit legislation that has the potential to secure our state some modest savings. They did it weeks before Eyman turned in any signatures.

Initiative 900 will not benefit the citizens of Washington State. It’s a poorly drafted proposal with too many problems and unanswered questions. Vote no.

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