State auditor Susan Montee explained the function of her office at the November 23rd Franklin County Democratic Central Committee meeting. In addition to auditing all the state departments and agencies, her office is tasked with auditing the judicial circuits, school districts and all the counties that don’t have their own auditor. She mentioned the City of St. Louis, the City of Springfield and its City Utilities Company as being especially time consuming.
Her office also has to review and register all general obligation bonds, certify all tax rates as changes are made by local entities, monitor the money coming into the state from the federal government which includes the $4.5 billion in stimulus funds, and analyze all ballot initiatives for their financial impact.
Montee commented on how the number of ballot initiatives has exploded in recent years and how partisan they have become. In 2007, her office reviewed 20 different ballot initiatives. In 2008 and 2009, that number jumped to 52 and 57 respectively. What is ideally a mechanism for citizens to inform and improve their state government has now become “a partisan wedge issue factory,” according to Montee.
Another aspect of the politically charged environment in state politics is the number of lawsuits being filed against the auditor’s office. Of course, all those lawsuits drain resources from the actual work being done and cost the taxpayers additional money. Montee was asked if her department has added staff to handle the additional work, and the answer was no surprise given current constraints on the state budget. So, essentially, she is being asked to do more work with no additional resources. Eventually, as the federal stimulus money comes in, she will be able to charge the expense of managing that fund back to the federal government.
In response to a question about that federal stimulus money. Montee said only about $1 billion of the $4.5 billion allocated for Missouri has come in so far, and that has been used to shore up the Medicaid fund and to support MODOT’s “shovel ready” projects.
Asked about her 2010 campaign for re-election, Montee admitted that Democrats will never be able to raise the amount of money that Republicans can raise but that she is hoping her record during her first term will count for something in the eyes of the voters. Being both a CPA and attorney gives her a leg up on her opponents who will have to face each other in a Republican primary next August. Given that we have a Democratic governor, the opposition would love to control the auditor’s office and use it to attack and discredit the governor.
Montee stressed the importance of Democratic gains in the Missouri House and how she and U.S. Senate candidate Robin Carnahan are helping to build support around the state for local races. She believes that by next summer the “parade of horribles” that the right wing is predicting about health care reform will not have happened and that the economy will continue to improve. With some good news finally, voters should be less vulnerable to fear mongering by the right wing.