Otto asserts State Auditor should remain elected post

5:39 AM, Aug 20, 2013   |    comments
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State Auditor Rebecca Otto

ST PAUL, Minn. -- Minnesota State Auditor Rebecca Otto will announce this week whether she'll seek a third term next year. But, regardless of what she decides, she asserts the office should remain an elected post rather an appointed one.

"I'm independently elected by the voters to do this work," the two-term Democrat told KARE.

"I'm accountable to the voters, absolutely, and that's the bottom line."

In 1972 a government efficiency panel appointed by then-Governor Wendy Anderson recommended eliminating the offices of State Auditor and State Treasurer. And 25 years later voters agreed to part of that, approving a constitutional amendment abolishing the office of State Treasurer.

There's been little talk of eliminating the Auditor's office recently, but Minnesota wouldn't be the first state to have the auditor's duties handled by an appointed official.

"In 24 states, the office of state auditor is not an elected position," political analyst David Schultz of Hamline University told KARE.

"And one could argue this is a technical position, that it's all about compliance and auditing, and maybe you want to have somebody who is more versed in accounting and those types of practices."

The State Auditor doesn't get as much media attention as the other constitutional officers -- the Governor, Secretary of State and Attorney General -- because she's not involved in as many controversial issues.

Otto says she prefers to work collaboratively with local governments, and to keep her public statement as apolitical as possible.

"I really think Minnesotans appreciate a non-partisan, service-oriented approach to the job," Otto explained.

"It's really about trying to make sure we have the most efficient, effective transparent government in the state, for our taxpayers."

Auditor's Role

Otto's, who overseas a staff of 110 employees, is responsible for tracking $20 billion in spending by 3,300 local government units throughout Minnesota. In addition to the headquarters in St. Paul, the Auditor has satellite offices in Rochester, Marshall, Mankato, Moorhead, and Duluth.

The Auditor's office generates dozens of reports annually, detailing trends in government spending and best practices. The annual update on how municipal liquor store earnings and local government lobbying expenses draw a good deal of attention.

"It's more about helping local cities to avoid financial pitfalls, especially in economic downturns," Otto said.

"We don't want them to end up in a situations where they aren't able to provide services, and they can't raise the revenues they need."

At the Capitol the word "auditor" has become synonymous with James Nobles, who heads the Office of the Legislative Auditor. The OLA is responsible for investigation misuse of funds and abuse of power by state agencies.

Some states combine both Nobles' and Otto's positions into one job.  In Minnesota the legislative auditor's post didn't exist until 1973, the same year Anderson's study panel recommended changes.

"Arne Carlson, when he encouraged me to run for it the first time, told me it was his favorite job that he ever had," Otto recalled.

"You get to really understand government at all levels and how it all works together."

Past Auditors

Arne Carlson is one of three state auditors who've gone on to become governor.  The others are Jacob Preus, who served from 1921 to 1925, and Minnesota's current chief executive Mark Dayton.

Two other recent state auditors, Pat Anderson and Judi Dutcher, both ran for governor.

"For some this can be a stepping stone to a higher profile office," Schultz added.

"Which is another reason that some would argue it shouldn't be a political position."

There are fewer state auditors in the state's history than governors, and that's primarily due to the fact that one of them -- Stafford King -- held the position from 1931 to 1969.

That's 38 years.

"If you're doing a good job, you might stay along as Stafford King did," Otto quipped.

Schultz pointed out that the Article 11, Section 6 of the Minnesota Constitution grants the State Auditor the power to impose a new statewide property tax if the State encounters a deficit that prevents it from paying its bills.

"I haven't found any evidence than an auditor has ever used that power," Schultz added.

"But it's intriguing that the auditor was given that type of power."

Editor's Note: On Tuesday, August 20 Rebecca Otto announced via a campaign video that she intends to see a third term in office, and will be a candidate in the 2014 election.

(Copyright 2013 by KARE. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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