Auditor’s budget bill was well understood

Bruce Eckre

Wahpeton

When you hear a state legislator’s statements that he or she wasn’t aware of what was in Senate Bill 2004, which strips the North Dakota state auditor of his ability to do independent audits, consider these facts. I am a former member of the North Dakota House, served as a Legislative Intern and a Lobbyist. I am familiar with how the Legislature works.

1. In the final days of the Legislature, most of the lawmakers have little to do. Members of the House and Senate appropriations committees are finishing work on budget bills. But most lawmakers aren’t members of Appropriations. They are waiting around for budget bills to be finished. They have plenty of time to read bills. They can even attend meetings where a bill’s final language is being written.

2. To figure out what a bill does, you look at new language in the bill (it’s underlined) and any words that are crossed out (they’re being removed). The final version of SB 2004 was only four pages. Two lines contained crossed-out words. Seventeen lines had underlined words that were added to the bill. So, there were only a few lines that changed anything.

3. The language in the auditor’s budget bill that has people upset is on page 3, lines 11 through 13. On line 11, the state auditor’s authority to do the performance audits that he thinks are needed are crossed out. Instead, the “legislative assembly” (underlined language) or the Legislative Audit and Fiscal Review Committee decides if a performance audit is necessary. On lines 12 and 13, you see the state auditor may do performance audits without legislative approval, only if the Legislative Audit and Fiscal Review Committee gives its permission.

4. Performance audits are designed to spot problems in a state agency’s operations, and to suggest improvements. Agencies don’t like them.

It only takes a few minutes to read the changes in the auditor’s budget bill.

It is easy to determine how the bill restricts the auditor’s authority.

If a legislator tells you he or she didn’t know these things, the question becomes, why not? It is a short bill. The language is clear. Members of the Legislature know how to read bills, and at the end of the session, most of them have plenty of time to do this.

My point is this – be extremely skeptical of any legislator’s claim that they didn’t know what they were voting on. They had time to figure out what the auditor’s budget bill did. They couldn’t be bothered.

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