Giving The State Snooping Powers

Larry Price
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Wednesday - February 07, 2007
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S.B. 1091, a bill introduced Jan. 19 by Sens. Les Ihara and Donna Mercado-Kim, has the clout to dazzle the most status-quo devotee.

It is a measure that authorizes the establishment of an investigative unit within the Office of the Auditor to conduct investigations involving alleged or suspected government waste, fraud, abuse or malfeasance at the request of the Legislature or upon the auditor’s initiative. The bill also expands the powers of that office and appropriates funds for the investigative unit.

As of this writing, it has already passed first reading and has been referred to two legislative committees.

The bill is well on its way to becoming law and from all indications, there is some serious intention to correct government waste. There will be a $350,000 appropriation, or so much thereof as may be necessary for fiscal year 2007-2008, and the same sum, or so much thereof as may be necessary for fiscal year 2008-2009, for a five-person investigative unit comprising a manager, a senior level supervisor, two investigative staff and a clerk, with appropriate computers and other equipment as may be needed. The act shall take effect July 1.

This is the toughest bill I have seen in recent memory. Most of the 4,000 or so bills introduced each year are of the housekeeping variety, or bills proposed to favor a particular group of constituents.

The bill also is tough reading. It is six pages long and has a number of “shall” provisions. It is not until you get to the fourth page that purpose of the bill reveals its true identity, like whom this bill is targeting. On Page 4 it says, (a) The auditor may examine and inspect all accounts, books, records, files, papers, and documents and all financial affairs of every department, including the department of taxation, office, agency, and political subdivision.(1) It permits the auditor to inspect any tax return of any taxpayer, (2) It also furnishes the auditor with an abstract of the return, if the auditor desires and (3) Supplies the auditor with information concerning any item contained in a tax return or disclosed by the report of any investigation of a tax return or of the subject matter of a tax return.”

The subsection of the bill does require the agency and its agents to keep confidential all records concerning any individual or case. That’s a small consolation, considering the legislative auditor can, at the direction of the Legislature, conduct an investigation on “any tax return of any taxpayer.”

It will be interesting to watch this bill progress through the legislative process, and to see who will speak out for and against it. It should be entertaining until they become interested in the tax returns of oil company executives or other corporative heads.

Certainly, a few will say it’s unconstitutional, and threaten to file a lawsuit against the implementation of the bill. I imagine the Democratic-controlled Legislature might be interested, during an election year, to have the legislative auditor investigate political candidates who have raised large sums of revenue.

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