Government
6:44 am
Fri November 2, 2012

The Race for Auditor General

The auditor general is Pennsylvania’s chief fiscal officer, responsible for gauging the financial strength of state departments and agencies, and determining whether local entities are living up to their budgetary obligations.  The office oversees the spending of everything from school districts to liquor stores to pension plans.

The Republican and Democratic candidates for auditor general currently serve in the state house of representatives and both men say they never envisioned themselves as politicians. Democrat Eugene DePasquale's outrage over the pay raise the state legislature gave itself in 2005 motivated him to run for office. Republican John Maher said he was asked to run after his local representative died unexpectedly. Maher is a certified public accountant, and recalled that initially he said "no." Then he reconsidered.

“Maybe I should get in the belly of the beast and give it some indigestion," Maher remembered thinking.  "I stepped forward to serve 15 years ago and I’ve been a voice of reform since long before reform was popular…accomplished the first advance in the public’s right to know about government records.”

DePasquale grew up in Pittsburgh, but he fell in love with a central Pennsylvania schoolteacher and moved to York County. Like Maher, DePasquale said he initiated reform, before reform was cool. “I became the first person to post my expenses online, helped re-write the state’s open records law to make sure the legislature was included, and also have the lowest expenses of any legislator in the state, returning over $40,000 to the taxpayers.”

Both men plan to get to work quickly

If elected, DePasquale says he knows which areas he would examine first. "I’ve said on day one I would order a review of all of our water protection programs to make sure the Marcellus Shale drilling isn’t negatively impacting our drinking water, I have an environmental background, I think that perfectly suits me. I also have an economic development background. I’ve said I’m going to do audits of all of our job creation programs at the Department of Community and Economic Development. We’re going to find out which programs are working to create jobs, and which ones aren’t.”

As Auditor General, Maher said he would start with a close look at his own department. “The auditor general is really doing things today the way that they did them 50 years ago. The world has marched on, but the auditor general’s office has not. It’s time to step forward to the future, be more efficient and bring some wisdom with these audits, instead of documents that just end up in file drawers.”

Maher said he would be a proactive auditor general – making sure problem areas are fixed before issues arise. He said that is particularly true in the natural gas industry where he would make sure regulations are enforced. “Uniformly and consistently and that the public is aware if there are problems, and more importantly, that the regulators themselves are held to a standard of performance to help make sure that problems are detected early.”

Independence is important to both candidates

When it comes to the question of independence from Harrisburg’s political pressures, democrat DePasquale says it is worth noting that the executive and legislative branches are controlled by republicans. “It’s very clear that being independent of that, I think is important. So I do think that is a strength I bring to the campaign and beyond. Having said that, I think you just can’t be any partisan warrior whether you’re a democrat or a republican, and I have a track record of being bipartisan and independent when need be.”

But Maher said that is a non-issue because the auditor general has often shared the political views of the party in power. He said it is the duty of a CPA to be independent, regardless of his or her political persuasion. “The reason CPAs are even called CPAs is 'cause it is Certified Public Accountant. The public is in there because the CPA’s duty is to ensure the public is told the truth. That’s a standard I wish applied in government generally. It doesn’t. But I will bring that standard to the auditor general’s office.”

DePasquale admits both he and his opponent are professionally competent, but he promised to go beyond the job title, bringing a voice of independence and a strong work ethic to the position, “and I take a backseat to no one on those qualities.”

Maher said he would put his nearly 30 years of accounting skills to work in Harrisburg, where he vowed more transparency in government. After all, Maher said, "sunlight is the best disinfectant."