Brian Sonntag Makes His Case: Budget Cut Will Cost State Money (He's Already Saved a Billion)

Among the Olympia department heads beseeching lawmakers not to make further gouges in their budgets, State Auditor Brian Sonntag may have the best argument: How can the legislature cut back on a process that not only saves taxpayers money but helps the state generate new income?

Gov. Chris Gregoire has proposed cutting Sonntag's performance-audit funding by $1.5 million on top of an $8 million reduction last year. Sonntag not only wants the new cut headed off but asks that the previous cutback be restored.

That $8 million, he says in a letter to Senate Minority Leader Mike Hewitt, represented a one-third cut in mandatory performance auditing approved by voters in 2005 to ferret out wasteful state spending.

"This latest [proposed] diversion comes as these audits continue to result in real cost savings," he writes, and in ways to make government work better. For example, a 2009 performance review proposed a business tax amnesty that, once approved, brought in $343 million, while a recent performance audit turned up ways to shave cell phone and mail costs, resulting in a $730,000 savings.

Those and other examples (see list) amount to almost $1 billion in actual and confirmed estimated savings since voters approved such audits, says Sonntag, a respected penny pincher who is retiring next year. His common-sense bottom line: It doesn't add up for his office to "do less at a time we should be doing more."

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