Kansans are now engaging in an important discussion about transparency and openness in their state’s government, including the possibility of electing a state auditor to keep an eye on public agencies.
The Star recommended the installation of a statewide auditor following the newspaper’s eye-opening series on secrecy in Kansas.
We’re encouraged that no elected official we know of has rejected the idea out-of-hand. In fact, two candidates for governor — Josh Svaty and Carl Brewer — embraced the proposal.
Others said details would have to be worked out before lawmakers consider the idea. We’re confident the Legislature can do that during next year’s session and put the proposal on the November ballot in Kansas.
Here are some things to keep in mind.
Cost. Several legislators said the auditor’s office might be too expensive. It needn’t be.
In fiscal year 2017, Missouri’s state auditor will receive more than $6.6 million from the state’s general fund. Missouri is about twice as big as Kansas, suggesting a reasonable general fund budget for a Kansas auditor might be about $3.5 million.
The Kansas general fund budget is $6.6 billion. The state should be able to find $3.5 million to fund an auditor. Or take funds from other state offices, including the secretary of state and the treasurer. Funds for the attorney general could be reduced, too, since the auditor will assume some of the responsibilities of that office.
And, as Svaty has pointed out, an effective auditor might save taxpayer money by reducing waste in government.
Bureaucracy. Several lawmakers said they’re worried about creating another bureaucracy in government. Don’t be fooled: They’re really worried about someone looking over their shoulders.
It’s true some transparency problems could be solved without an auditor. The Legislature could record votes, for example. Those steps should be taken whether there’s an auditor or not.
Election. Some are worried about electing the auditor statewide. There’s no perfect way to do this, but electing the auditor should ensure some loyalty to the people and not a branch of government.
Let the people vote. We’re not asking Topeka to establish a state auditor. We’re asking for a statewide vote on an auditor. There can be no clearer indication of support for openness in Kansas than letting the people decide the question.
Conversely, opponents will demonstrate support for the status quo: secrecy, obfuscation, delay.
Kansas had an auditor for more than a century. Now, a strong auditor could put a stop to excessive secrecy in state government. Voters should have their say in 2018.