By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
Tuesday, April 21 Alabama State Auditor Jim Zeigler (R) introduced his plan to save the State Parks System by identifying $13 million in savings by defunding the office of the Examiner of Public Accounts.
Zeigler announced his plan in a speech to the Tuscaloosa Rotary Club. Auditor Zeigler said that he is proposing that the auditing of state agencies be privatized and done by private CPA firms. That would eliminate the Examiners of Public Accounts and its $13 million a year budget. That money would be used instead for the parks.
Under the 1901 Constitution audits were handled by the Alabama Legislature. In the 1930s the legislature moved that authority to the Examiner of Public Accounts….answerable directly to the state legislature instead of to the elected state Auditor. The Auditor’s office was relegated to performing inventory checks of the state agencies physical assets like: like buildings, vehicles, equipment, office furniture, etc.
In the 2014 legislative session state Representative Ed Henry (R from Hartselle) proposed legislation which would return the agency to the Auditor. One state Auditor candidate, attorney Ray Bryan, proposed an amendment abolishing the Auditor and surrendering that office’s powers to the state legislature controlled Office of Examiner of Public Accounts.
Zeigler said in his statement that he has e-mailed his plan to all the state legislators and will be holding meetings with legislators.
State Senator Clay Scofield (R from Arab) has proposed funding the state Parks by moving funding that is dedicated to Forever Wild for buying new state lands to the maintenance of the state parks. That plan would require approval from the Forever Wild Board.< The Parks generate an estimated 85 percent of their funding through user fees. Some legislators have proposed raising the fees so that the parks don’t need additional funding. On Wednesday, April 22 the 15 park closings that were threatened to being on May will not happen until October (if then) parks director Greg Lein announced. Director Lein said in a statement, “"On Wednesday, April 15th the state parks division announced the planned closure of four parks and two golf courses.” “Since that time, we have received a tremendous amount of support from the public. In addition, the Governor's office and the Legislature have received an outcry for our parks to stay open and for them to receive full funding. Given these recent developments and discussions that are taking place in Montgomery, Governor Bentley has instructed the State Parks Division to delay these closings slated for May 1st until further notice.” Auditor Zeigler still supports his plan. Zeigler said in a statement, “We have been told 15 state parks will close without the tax increases. That is an incomplete picture. There are other options, and my plan is an option that needs to be considered.” Under Zeigler’s plan each state entity would then retain a private CPA firm for required audits, payable from each agency’s own budget. Zeigler says the plan will provide more timely audits, because the Examiners are already seriously delayed in their audits. Some state agencies have already privatized their auditing, paying money from their own budgets to obtain an audit they previously got free from the Examiners. Zeigler said, “An audit delayed is an audit denied,” Governor Robert Bentley has asked for $541 million in new taxes to pay for the state’s General Fund needs but that plan appears to have stalled in the legislature. The Democrats have proposed an expansion of gambling and tax revenues; but that plan also appears to be stalled as a GOP plan that solves the $261 million budget shortfall with budget cuts appears to be progressing through the process at this time.