The Tulsa World asked each candidate running for governor in the primary election a set of questions. Read all the questions and answers at the Tulsa World’s home for all of its election coverage: tulsaworld.com/election2018.
The question: There has been a great deal of discussion about auditing state agencies. How would you increase oversight of state government, and how would you pay for the up-front costs?
Chris Barnett: I would pay for it by reducing the number of people incarcerated in our prisons. Nonviolent offenders should not be locked up at a cost to taxpayers of $24k a year. Currently, to my understanding, we can audit all day long but can’t do anything about waste and corruption. I would work with the Attorney General’s Office and the Legislature to enact laws and regulations that would allow us to take action and charge those who have committed crimes against the state of Oklahoma by waste, theft or corruption.
Mick Cornett: I think the first step is returning to line-item budgeting for every single agency. Every taxpayer should be able to figure where every dollar is going. We also need to be more conscious about how we’re spending during years with a surplus. At the city level, when we had a surplus, we still asked departments to budget as if there may be a deficit. Audits are important; I helped provide oversight for over 140 performance audits as chairman of the Audit Committee at the local level, and a good place to start would be making sure the auditor has the ability to audit every agency every year.
Dan Fisher: First, we need to restrict government spending to core functions. I would thoroughly review every agency and use a “core function” litmus test to determine if the agency should even be receiving taxpayer dollars. For the core function agencies, I would initiate full-blown performance and forensic audits in order to eliminate duplication of services, waste and corruption. I believe an outside auditing firm should perform the audits of many of these agencies to ensure objectivity. I would request the Legislature pass special audit appropriations as needed. I am convinced the savings the audits would create would more than pay for the audits themselves.
Eric Foutch: I believe the rules, the laws and the system already exists; it just needs to be administered properly. I think we have good people in the State Auditor’s Office; it’s the incompetence of heads of state agencies (the Health Department debacle and the missing/not missing $30 million). And Oklahoma received an F in transparency by the national Center for Public Integrity. As far as how I would pay for it, first I’d make sure competent people are in place. However, we’d have to make do with the current budget as I’m not willing to slash other state agencies. (There is nothing left to cut.)
Barry Gowdy: (No answer)
Gary Jones: Most agencies are audited in some fashion annually. I’m the one candidate who understands the different types of audits that are done and which additional audits are needed. I have written legislation and pushed for the creation of the Joint Committee on Accountability only to have it vetoed by Gov. Mary Fallin. I will push to get that passed. It will provide greater oversight and accountability with a partnership of the House, state Senate and auditor’s office.
Todd Lamb: Oklahoma must hold unelected bureaucrats accountable, and I will do that by reforming the legislative budget process by requiring one “policy-only” month and three “budget-only” months. Oklahoma must address its billions of dollars in annual exemptions, credits and incentives. If just 2 percent of annual payouts are eliminated, millions of dollars would return to the General Revenue Fund. Additionally, Oklahoma must institute zero-based budgeting, requiring agencies to annually justify budgets, not just increase requests. By including all 149 legislators, and moving the budget-making process from the back rooms, greater transparency will abound.
Gary Richardson: I will demand performance and/or forensic audits of every state agency, board and commission to be executed at least every four years. I have been saying Oklahoma needs mandatory audits for the past 16 years, so I’m glad to see the other candidates are finally catching on. I’m not worried about the up-front cost because, as any professional auditor tell you, a performance audit always pays for itself many times over. It’s simply a matter of re-prioritizing the budget.
Blake Cowboy Stephens: To my understanding, audits are automatically appropriated in the budget. I believe we have the money to fund our core agencies. We have to perform unbiased, external audits. We then take those findings and be transparent with our citizens. We have to restore accountability in our government on all levels. If I am elected governor, I will model integrity and transparency from the highest office in the state. I am a lifetime farmer and rancher, and I have “worked” for everything that I have. I am ready to go to “work” at our state Capitol and make a difference.
Kevin Stitt: To make audits worth their investment, we also need to apply performance metrics to each state agency so that there is a tool to measure successes or shortcomings. These are basic business practices that should be happening in state government, and it is why it is going to take an outsider to start Oklahoma’s turnaround. I will also post Oklahoma’s $22 billion checkbook online where agencies will report directly to the taxpayer in near real time how every dollar is being spent. I am confident we can pay for this with current revenue growth and the efficiency we will create through my plan.
Drew Edmondson: As governor, I would work closely with the Attorney General’s Office and the State Auditor’s Office to enforce a zero-tolerance policy concerning misuse of state funds. Auditing every state agency every year would be the best possible option, but that is contingent on increasing funding for the State Auditor’s Office.
Connie Johnson: I would increase oversight of state agency spending via more comprehensive budget work proposal vetting at the beginning of each year, including assessing the impact of agency budgets on vulnerable populations. We will use the savings that will come from culturally competent, informed delivery of services to such populations, combined with revenues from new, sustainable and renewable sun, wind and cannabis resources to fund up-front audit costs. I would also create an advisory board to identify, review and evaluate all state contracts with private interests with an eye toward eliminating such contracts or ensuring that all groups have equal access to and ability to compete for such contracts.
Rex Lawhorn: Oklahoma Office of Management and Enterprise Services needs to be abandoned, and an independent commission of transparency should replace it. A singular oversight position needs to be instituted with the power to commission external audits that are publicly released immediately upon completion. The up-front costs would be derived from the OMES budget. The transparency commission should be the oversight that ensures integrity of the entire process, including the budget, the audits and the entire scope of state government activity.
Joe “Exotic” Maldonado: I would implement an open-door policy for my administration. I would also seek legislation that would also make the Legislature subject to the Open Records Act. I will work with all parties to fund audits.
Chris Powell: I will be more active as a watchdog on state agencies, and I will strongly encourage the Legislature to be both more transparent and to be more diligent and detail-oriented regarding the budgets of state agencies. The process currently is that competing budget proposals are produced out of public view by a handful of powerful politicians. We must transition to needs-based budgeting done in the light of day. If we do this, there will be less need for audits. If we don’t do this, audits will be of limited use.