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Legislation to abolish auditor carried over in committee

The entrance to the Alabama Statehouse on South Union Street.

The Alabama State Senate Governmental Affairs Committee carried over a bill Tuesday that would abolish the office of state auditor.

Senate Bill 83 is sponsored by State Sen. Andrew Jones, R-Centre.

Jones said that the bill would not go into effect until the end of the current state auditor’s term. He is term-limited so he cannot run again.

“The auditor is tasked with inventorying state property of $500 or more.” Jones said that the auditor’s budget is $928,000 and has nine employees. This is a way we can downsize state government and save money.

State Auditor Jim Zeigler said, “The audits that the state audits does are different than the audits that the examiner of public accounts do. It would not save any money because the examiners would have to pick up the property audits that they don’t do now.”

“During the Bentley administration our budget was cut 28 percent,” Zeigler said. The Auditor’s office was cut from 11 employees to 5 and a half. We are still able to be current on the audits as long as cars with 180,000 miles or a printer does not go down.

“The money saving would not be there,” Zeigler said. “Your constituents do not favor eliminating their state auditor.”

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Zeigler said that in addition to the audits he has “Worked to become a monitor of state waste and corruption. I entered the ethics complaint against Robert Bentley. That is the thing that I am best known but there are a dozen things that I have done.”

Zeigler said that he used the pulpit of the auditor and 36 volunteers to investigate corruption.

“We need to be increasing the power and authority of the state auditor not eliminating it,” Zeigler said. “The Mississippi State Auditor, who has more powers, uncovered a $4 million fraud.”

Senator Linda Coleman-Madison (D-Birmingham) said, “There is a study commission looking at consolidation now. We are getting ahead of this before we understand efficiencies.”

“If we do this now we are putting the cart before the horse,” Coleman-Madison said. “We are paying thousands of dollars to a consultant to take a lead on this and we are usurping it. Are we doing the right thing? I don’t have the information to make this decision.”

The committee is chaired by Sen. Jimmy Holley (R-Elba).

Holley carried over the bill at the call of the chair.

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State Auditor Jim Zeigler (R) told the Alabama Political Reporter that he was going to mobilize 54,000 citizens to fight this.

The Auditor’s primary function in the 1901 Constitution was to audit state agencies. The legislature took that power away from the Auditor’s office in 1939. Since then the Auditor has not actually overseen audits; but instead has been relegated to simply doing state property inventories. In 2013 legislation was introduced by State Representative Ed Henry (R-Hartselle) that would have restored the office of the Examiner of Public Accounts to the state Auditor’s purview.

Zeigler told APR that that bill in 2013 passed the House, but did not get passed by the Senate.

APR asked if it would be more efficient to just merge the Office of the Examiner of Public Accounts into the elected Auditor’s office.

“I am looking into that,” Zeigler said.

Brandon Moseley is a former reporter at the Alabama Political Reporter.

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