State auditor angry over budget bill

DFL State Auditor Rebecca Otto is hoping Gov. Mark Dayton vetoes the state government finance bill that House and Senate leaders negotiated in the closing hours of the 2015 session.

Otto objects to language in the bill from House Republicans that would allow county officials to bypass her office and get audits from the private sector. Otto said the change would be a devastating blow to her office.

“These are professional services, people that are highly trained,” Otto said. “Our office has some of the biggest experts in the state of Minnesota, if not the nation. They’re some of the best trained and they have years of experience. If you diminish the function of that division, we can only get so small before it’s gone, and when it’s gone, it’s not going to come back.”

Otto said she recently received assurances from Dayton, who once served as state auditor, that he would be willing to reject the bill. A spokesman for the governor said he was unaware of any such pledge.

The issue came up briefly in the Senate during debate of the larger bill.

Sen. Sandy Pappas, DFL-St. Paul, said the privatization of audits would be “like the fox guarding the chicken coop.”

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But Sen. Torrey Westrom, R-Elbow Lake, said some competition would be good for the auditor.

The chair of the House state government finance committee said she’s confident the governor will sign the bill, and she defended the provision.

It would simply give counties the same option that cities and school districts already have, said Rep. Sarah Anderson, R-Plymouth.

“It’s going to give them a cost savings and hopefully give them faster results on their audits, two of the complaints that we’ve heard from counties as far as the state auditor goes,” Anderson said.

Anderson said a fiscal analysis showed no more than 25 percent of counties would pursue the option of hiring private auditors.