The governor will announce next week when she will call legislators back into a second special session to bridge a $110 million budget gap after she vetoed much of the budget plan they presented. Then in February, lawmakers will return in regular session facing a $600 million budget hole. So, lawmakers are already looking at ways of cutting costs.
Lawmakers were forced to sign off on $30 million of emergency money after the Department of Health, we are told, misappropriated the money. Sources say the agency could be short as much as $100 million. The agency was apparently cooking the books to cover its tracks, a maneuver that could have been caught with proper audits.
Now Sen. Rob Standridge (R-Norman) is proposing legislation that would put auditors in every state agency. It would be paid for by eliminating agency lobbyists.
"We've got all these lobbyists that I bet taxpayers don't even realize that their money is going to pay lobbyists asking us as their elected representative to give whoever they're working for more money,” Standridge says. “It's just nonsensical."
Standridge says eliminating the lobbyists would more than pay for auditors. He says just look at the tobacco settlement agency.
"TSET (Tobacco Settlement Endowment Trust) has spent about a million dollars a year," Standridge says. "I think this last fiscal year was $750,000. Those lobbyists alone would almost fund us enough in agency auditors to take care of this project."
Standridge says the auditors would work for the legislature, not the individual agencies, so they couldn’t be fired if they turn up misspending. Lawmakers are also encouraging state employees and vendors to call them to report misspending.
"They're not going to lose their job,” says Rep. Bobby Cleveland (R-Cleveland County), “Under the Whistleblower Act, they can come to us and no one's going to know and it gives them the right to speak out."
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story misidentified Sen. Rob Standridge as a state representative.