By john Celock
Kansas lawmakers expressed skepticism Wednesday about legislation to remove the state’s auditor from the control of the Legislature.
Members of the House Appropriations Committee heard legislation Wednesday that would shift the state’s legislative post auditor from being part of the Legislative Branch to become a division of post audit under the control of the state treasurer. Supporters said that bill would allow the auditor to be under an independently elected statewide official, while opponents expressed concern that the auditor’s role would see a dramatic overhaul.
“The whole intention of the bill is to give the audit function greater autonomy and give accountability to the electorate,” Rep. Kevin Jones (R-Wellsville), the bill’s author, told the committee.
Jones said that recent allegations of corruption in several state agencies led to his wanting to give the auditor greater independence. He said that having the auditor under the control of the Legislature gives the unit 165 elected bosses, while placing the division under the treasurer gives it one elected boss.
Currently the Legislative Post Audit Committee, a panel comprised of state House and Senate members, oversees the work of the auditor’s office. The committee also reviews financial and performance audits from the auditor.
Jones said that he picked the treasurer’s office as a home for the audit division since the office has financial duties and has the lightest load of the statewide offices. The state treasurer currently serves as the state’s banker, along with overseeing a college savings and disability savings program. The treasurer also serves on the board of the state pension fund.
Jones said that the bill would only move the office from one area to another and would not change the function of the office. He said the Legislature can retain an audit committee.
“The whole intention is for efficiency and effectiveness. If you move the accountability from the Legislature to the treasurer,” Jones said. “If you are the treasurer and you are doing audits and that information comes to you. You’d come back to the committee and report those findings. You’ll be the one held accountable for that.”
Committee expressed concerns that the bill was needed, noting that the auditor has been doing strong work and is accountable to the Legislature.
“Our legislative post audit is second to none in the nation,” Rep. Tom Burroughs (D-Kansas City) said. “This concerns me moving forward that we don’t trust our post audit committee to do truthful straight forward work.”
Several legislators expressed concern about the future of performance audits conducted by the division if the agency was moved to the treasurer’s office. They said that the treasurer was largely focused on financial issues and would likely focus the auditor on financial audits and not performance audits. Jones said that would not be the case and said that legislators and the public could urge the treasurer to have a variety of audits.
Committee members also expressed concern that the Legislature could be cut out of the audit process and not have access to the audit reports. Jones said the audit committee and other committees could continue to review the auditor’s work.
Kansas had an independently elected state auditor until the 1970s when the post was made a unit of the Legislature. Close to two dozen states have audits under the control of an independently elected official, with the most common being a state auditor or controller who is largely focused on audit related issues.
In Oregon, the independently elected secretary of state controls the auditor’s office, along with duties related to election administration. The California state controller and the New York state comptroller both serve as the state’s chief fiscal officer, along with overseeing audits. In New Jersey, audits are conducted both by the state comptroller, who is appointed by the governor to a six-year term, and by the state auditor, who is part of the Legislative Branch.