State Auditor Rebecca Otto Wednesday reiterated her determination to take a recent change to her office’s responsibilities to court unless legislators repeal the new rules in a special session.
“They’re going to have a special session and they can deal with this then,” Otto told MPR News host Tom Weber. “If they choose not to, they’ve made a choice. If they don’t want to [spend money on a lawsuit], they should take care of it in a special session.”
At issue is a new law that allows counties to pay private accounting firms rather than the state auditor to conduct annual audits.
Otto argues the move is unconstitutional, and that it stands to gut her office.
Rep. Sarah Anderson, R-Plymouth, sponsored the legislation. She said her strategy will save taxpayer dollars because counties may pay less with an outside firm.
“We’ve heard from counties that are looking for this flexibility,” Anderson told Weber.
“My goal is to make sure we’re responding to the people of Minnesota, and get some tax relief to taxpayers,” Anderson said.
Right now, the Minnesota State Auditor has the authority to audit some counties and give others an exemption to use an outside firm. Otto said these decisions are partly made based on staffing in her office.
Meanwhile, school districts and most cities can use an outside auditor as well.
Anderson’s plan extends that option to all Minnesota counties, though it preserves Otto’s authority to double check private audits.
Anderson’s change, which Gov. Mark Dayton signed into law last month as part of the government funding bill, temporarily stalled progress on setting a date for the special session.
Dayton said he wouldn’t call legislators back unless they agreed to repeal the new law. Dayton, who was State Auditor in the 1990s, eventually relented.
The Association of Minnesota Counties didn’t make outsourced audits a priority for the 2015 session, but individual counties continued to ask for the option.
Some that have been using private companies are saving money, Anderson argued.
Anderson pointed to Swift County, which has outsourced audits. Anderson said the county is paying half of what its neighbors are paying for annual audits through the state auditor’s office.
Otto said that private companies are working in the interest of the county, not the taxpayer, even if they are less expensive than paying her office for the work, which is required by law.
“Do you want cheap audits?” Otto asked. “You get what you pay for.”
For her part, Anderson rejected Otto’s claim that taking away the responsibility would gut her office, pointing to a fiscal document that shows it would reduce the state auditor’s office workload by 20 percent.