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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Opinion

Eyman’s audit initiative deserves a close look

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The following editorial appeared Friday in the Centralia Chronicle.

Audits to many of us undoubtedly seem an arcane and policy-wonkish subject, but voters will need to pay attention this fall if an initiative on audits gets on the ballot, which seems likely. It would give voters a distinct choice between a relatively weak performance audit measure approved this spring by the Legislature and initiative promoter Tim Eyman’s stronger measure, which if passed would prevail.

On Wednesday, Eyman submitted to the state 226,411 voter signatures, with roughly 275,000 needed by July 8 to put his Initiative 900 on the November ballot. It would authorize for the first time performance audits to study the effectiveness of state and local government agencies and programs in spending our tax dollars. The measure would provide a guaranteed $10 million annually for the audits and allow the state auditor alone to determine which agencies and programs are audited.

The Legislature’s measure, by comparison, limits the audits to state entities and programs, assures only $2.8 million in the next two years for them and gives a citizen oversight panel a say on who is audited. As Eyman points out, after two years under the Legislature’s measure, there is no assurance of continued funding for the audits. The state auditor would be put in the position of pleading every year for funding “from the very people he is going to audit,” and those “politicians have every incentive to not provide the funds necessary to do the job right,” Eyman contends.

The politically appointed, unelected oversight board would take away some of the independence of the elected state auditor to carry out the audits. And there appears to be a good case for local government audits as well as at the state level. “Sound Transit, King County elections, and Seattle government are just three examples of local governments that need to know they’ll be examined and scrutinized,” Eyman said.

Performance audits of the King County elections department likely will especially appeal to many voters, given all the errors and incompetence revealed in the 2004 election for governor.

“There are over 2,000 local governments in Washington and they all deserve to be held accountable for how they spend our tax dollars,” Eyman said, with I-900 the “900-pound gorilla” that will accomplish that.

Giving further weight to I-900 is that our highly respected elected state auditor, Brian Sonntag, a Democrat, believes it would be an improvement over the legislative measure. Sonntag noted that he’s “not hired by the governor or the Legislature. I’m hired by the citizens of the state and that’s who we work for.”

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