Last week I wrote about the fact that State Auditor Josh Gallion was scheduled to meet with our State Legislature’s Majority Leaders, Senator Rich Wardner (R – District 37) and Rep. Chet Pollert (R – District 29) today. That meeting took place this morning and the outcome isn’t surprising.
The meeting, of course, came as the result of a power grab — via a conference committee amendment to an appropriation’s bill — on Gallion’s office in the final days of the recent Legislative Session. Going forward, any performance audits will have to be approved by the Legislative Audit and Fiscal Review Committee. In short, the independence of the office, when it comes to these audits, is gone.
With a significant amount of displeasure being voiced by people across North Dakota, a number of legislators expressed a variety of thoughts on the issue. From Rep. Keith Kempenich’s (R – District 39) admission that “A lot of legislators… wanted to reel [Gallion] in” to Rep. Marvin Nelson’s (R – District 9) expectation that Governor Doug Burgum would line item veto the move — which he didn’t — the conversation has been both fascinating and troubling. There’s no doubt the pressure is on lawmakers— and rightfully so.
In the midst of all this, even Senate Majority Leader Rich Wardner has denied that he knew about the details of what had been slipped into the State Auditor’s budget at the last minute. So, he had expressed last week that there was a possibility that lawmakers would reconvene to deal with the issue. I shared my skepticism that such a thing would ever happen, when I wrote that Josh Gallion shouldn’t give an inch in his meeting with Wardner and Pollert today. In fact, I was so skeptical that I even suggested such a thing would be a “miracle”.
Well, as I expected, someone messaged me earlier today letting me know that Senator Wardner announced in his meeting with Gallion this morning that the Legislature will not be reconvening to deal with the issue. Instead, they’re kicking the can down the road to the 2021 Legislative Session. You can see the Bismarck Tribune’s coverage of this here.
Wardner’s decision not to reconvene, in an attempt to right their own wrong, is awful. At the very least, it’s as bad as the fact that not a single senator voted against the gutting of the State Auditor’s office in the first place. But it may just be worse. After all, Wardner is now fully aware of the implications regarding the bill— and he’s literally choosing to do nothing about it in the immediate.
Instead, it appears Senator Wardner and Rep. Pollert think that having the Legislative Audit and Fiscal Review Committee meet more often is the solution during the interim. I couldn’t disagree more. So, it appears the only recourse now is for the people to refer this to the ballot and reject what the legislature has done— thereby restoring the State Auditor’s authority.
If you’d like to assist with the effort to put a referendum on the ballot, you can go to the Facebook page, “Audit the Swamp“, and sign up there.
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