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Editorial: Inslee’s vetoes of studies unfortunate

When Gov. Jay Inslee signed the budget Sunday, he did not forget his veto pen.

The governor took exception to several provisions he said were unfunded, duplicative, or contrary to his agenda or the prerogatives of the executive branch.

In a bill 487 pages long, he was bound to find some defects.

Inslee was particularly sympathetic to the complaints of State Auditor Troy Kelley who, like him, is new to the office and anxious to establish his independence. Auditors can be convenient scapegoats when government inefficiencies go undetected, or troublesome overseers when scrutiny fingers someone’s favorite little slush fund.

Kelley predecessor Brian Sonntag was revered for the even-handed way he ruled this office, but even he did not get everything he wanted from stingy or resentful legislatures. Like Sonntag, Kelley has fought to protect – with only partial success – money voters set aside in 2005 for performance audits that address how well a government agency performs its assigned tasks, not the bookkeeping particulars.

Lawmakers have repeatedly raided those funds. In this budget, they not only lifted $10 million out of that account, they diverted $5.6 million to the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Committee, (JLARC), which works separately from the auditor’s office. Adding to the insult, legislators also directed Kelley to undertake several audits, including one of the performance indicators the Legislature uses when writing the budget.

Kelley argued, and Inslee agreed, that lawmakers were interfering with executive functions.

Unfortunately, the governor responded by vetoing some worthwhile directives; an assessment of the quality of the health care actuarial information used by several state agencies, and whether those services should not be consolidated into a separate office. As the Affordable Care Act transforms the delivery of medical services, that study would have been timely.

He also shut down what would have been a JLARC report on the executive agency performance measurement. The governor seems satisfied that his own Results Washington initiative can handle that assessment just fine. We’ll see.

Inslee found more duplication in proposed studies of the energy portfolios voters approved in 2006 to increase the use of alternative energy by state utilities. But the studies were approaching the issue from opposite ends: one focusing on costs to ratepayers, the other on the best way to curb emissions. There is room for both.

More important than the outcome of any of these studies is whether the Legislature and governor will pay the results any mind. JLARC has done a lot of fine work over the years, which lawmakers largely ignored because it offended their personal beliefs, or the special-interest groups clustered in the Capitol lobby and writing the campaign checks.

That’s probably not a performance legislators would want audited.

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