Kansas state Sen. Dennis Pyle of Hiawatha has taken an important step in the effort to establish an auditor in the state.
On Tuesday, Pyle, a Republican, said he will request legislative language that would establish an auditor for a single four-year term. The job would go away after that first term, he said, unless the auditor found “waste, fraud and abuse” equal to or greater than its budget.
“I’d like to see a dog have motivation to go hunt,” Pyle said.
The senator should be commended for embracing the establishment of a state auditor. His proposal is a good place for lawmakers to start the discussion, although the specifics of his plan must be improved.
There’s little doubt that any auditor would find enough savings to justify a relatively modest budget, making Pyle’s restrictive language unnecessary. Anyone who wants to be state auditor would have plenty of motivation to “hunt” for real waste and fraud.
But the auditor should investigate non-financial issues like secrecy and obstruction, too. A new auditor’s value can’t be judged in just dollars and cents, a fact lawmakers and voters should keep in mind.
For those worried about cost, however, a new auditor could be budget-neutral even before he or she goes to work.
The estimated cost, $3.5 million in the first year, could easily be offset by trimming spending for other state offices, such as the secretary of state, or the attorney general or the Legislature itself.
For additional protection against budget-creep, lawmakers could establish a cap on the auditor’s budget — say, $1.25 per person in the state, increasing annually only at the rate of inflation.
There are other improvements that should be made to the senator’s proposal. The auditor’s office should last longer than four years. Otherwise, state agencies will just stall for time, and real reform will be difficult.
Additionally, the auditor’s office should be part of the state’s constitution. That gives the auditor real independence from the other branches of state government.
Let’s make this simple. The Legislature should sign off on a ballot measure for November, asking voters to approve an amendment to the state constitution adding an elected state auditor.
The language could cap the auditor’s budget. It could limit the terms of the auditor — say, eight years. It could provide for voter renewal of the office every 20 years.
It should spell out areas of responsibility for the auditor, making it clear he or she represents the people, not the politicians.
Pyle deserves credit for elevating the debate. His colleagues must finish the work this session.