Tuesday, the Alabama Senate Government Affairs Committee narrowly voted favorable report for a controversial piece of legislation that would abolish the constitutional office of State Auditor, if passed by the legislature and approved by voters.
Senate Bill 83 is sponsored by State Senator Andrew Jones, R-Centre.
The Senate Government 6 to 5 vote came after a substitute bill was offered by Sen. Sam Givhan (R-Huntsville). The original bill would have transferred the Auditor’s powers and responsibilities to the Examiner of Public Accounts which answers to the state legislature. Givhan’s substitute does away with the State Auditor and move its duties to the State Treasurer.
The current State Auditor Jim Zeigler (R) is term-limited from seeking another term. SB83 would abolish the State Auditor position in January of 2023 when Zeigler’s term ends.
It is a proposed constitutional amendment. If it passes both Houses of the Alabama Legislature, it would be voted on by the voters on the November 3, 2020 presidential election ballot.
Zeigler opposes the legislation.
“We need an independent elected State Auditor to inventory state property and to serve as a watchman against waste, mismanagement and corruption,” Zeigler said in a statement.
Zeigler expressed concerns that he “fears that the bill will be quietly amended again late in the process and take effect immediately.”
Zeigler filed the initial ethics complaint against then-governor Robert Bentley (R). After a year of investigations, the Alabama Ethics Commission found in favor of Zeigler and against Bentley recommending criminal prosecution. Five days later, Bentley resigned and signed a plea agreement with state prosecutors. Zeigler led the political effort to block a toll bridge on I-10 over Mobile Bay. He is also an outspoken opponent of Amendment One on March 3, which would abolish the elected State Board of Education (SBOE).
When the 1901 Constitution was written the authors envisioned the State Auditor as an independent check on state agencies. In 1939 the Auditor’s auditing powers were stripped from the office by the legislature who took them for themselves. Since then state Audits are conducted by the Examiner of Public Accounts, which strangely answers to the legislature. The Auditor’s office has been conducting inventories of state property since then.
Don Wallace is a CPA, former candidate for the State Board of Education, and former President of the Alabama Republican Assembly.
“Further, the independently elected auditor is the one that should be in charge of the Department of Examiners, as opposed the elected officials that oversee that office now,” Wallace said. “It may not be a violation of professional standards, but it is certainly less independent to have said elected officials overseeing the department that audits their budgets.”
“The State Auditor should be directing a smaller examiners department, with the bulk of that work done by private auditing firms at less cost and more efficiently,” Wallace said. “The current Examiner’s department is often years behind getting to audits of counties, schools, etc. and rarely picks up corruption cases due to work overload. Letting the private sector handle the standard financial audit services, while a re-purposed examiners office under the direction of the State Auditor could go more deeply into government corruption and wasteful spending. There is NOTHING about the proposal from the legislature that is good for oversight of the taxpayer’s dollars.”
SB83 now goes to the full Senate for their consideration.