Legislators push for more control over state auditors

Feb 23, 2011

The following article was published in The Current on February 22, 2011:

Legislators push for more control over state auditors

By Gary Fineout

Florida’s legislative leaders could soon have direct control over the hiring and firing of one of the state’s main auditors under a measure that will likely pass the first week of session.

Last year state lawmakers whacked the budget of the Office of Program Policy Analysis and Government Accountability by a third. Now legislators are moving ahead with a plan to change the state law requiring that the head of OPPAGA be hired and fired by a vote of the entire Legislature.

That same proposed legislation — which on Tuesday moved quickly through the House Rules and Calendar Committee — would also eliminate a legacy of disgraced former House Speaker Ray Sansom. Before he became speaker Sansom had pushed for a state law that created a process to decide whether or not state agencies should be abolished or “sunset.”

Rep. Ray Aubuchon, R-Cape Coral, contended the changes were part of an overall plan to give lawmakers the ability to easily change several legislative offices and joint committees without having to change state law. The House panel also approved new joint rules that keep OPPAGA as one of four legislative offices.

“One Legislature cannot bind a future Legislature,” Aubuchon said. “We are not carrying over past decisions made by past administrations.”

But Rep. Franklin Sands, D-Weston, questioned how independent OPPAGA auditors would function if they knew that they could easily be replaced.

“If I’m signing someone’s paycheck I expect them to do exactly what I want,” Sands said.

The joint rules and the bill are scheduled to be taken up by the Senate Rules Committee on Thursday. Aubuchon said both measures will be voted on by the full Legislature during the first week of session in March.

The measure under consideration would also abolish the Century Commission for a Sustainable Florida as well as the Technology Review Workgroup, the office that is supposed to keep an eye on information technology purchases made by state agencies.

Last winter House Speaker Dean Cannon and Senate President Mike Haridopolos fired the person who ran the Technology Review Workgroup. That office in 2009 presented a scathing report to state lawmakers that suggested more than $200 million had been spent on computer systems and information technology projects that were poorly planned and did not work as initially proposed.

The new joint rules that are being proposed would also make changes to the review period for the budget. The state constitution requires that lawmakers must wait 72 hours before they can take a final vote on the budget.

The new rules would require that lawmakers could not vote on any  “conforming” or “implementing” bills that accompany the budget unless they have been available for at least 24 hours.