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State Auditor says lawsuit possible if changes to her office's duties aren't undone

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Minnesota State Auditor Rebecca Otto is threatening court action if a new law stripping her office of county auditing duties isn't undone in the upcoming legislative special session, MPR News reports.

Otto, in an interview with MPR News host Tom Weber, said if lawmakers choose not to "deal with this" during the upcoming special session, "they've made a choice. If they don't want to [spend money on a lawsuit], they should take care of it in a special session."

The point of contention

The duties of Otto and the state auditor's office threatened to become a sticking point last week.

It was revealed one of the laws approved in the waning hours of the legislative session allows Minnesota counties to hire accountants from the private sector to conduct financial reviews, instead of having the state auditor do it.

Otto says it's unconstitutional and private sectors audits won't be done in the best interest of taxpayers. The bill's sponsor, Republican Rep. Sarah Anderson from Plymouth, says it's a cheaper option for counties who want it, MPR reports.

Gov. Mark Dayton signed the bill into law – but later asked for a promise from legislators they'd take that provision out during the special session.

He threatened to not convene a special session unless it came with a promise it would get addressed.

But this week, Dayton backed down from that stance, saying he wasn't going to put the jobs of more than 9,000 state employees at risk. If a final budget deal doesn't get resolved by July 1, Minnesota will go into partial government shutdown, and those employees will be laid off.

Others weigh in

On Tuesday, former Minnesota State Treasurer Bob Mattson told WCCO he supports Otto's fight.

Mattson was the state's treasurer from 1983 to 1987 – and you may notice that now, we don't have a state treasurer.

Legislators tried to take away Mattson's duties and staff while he was in office, WCCO says, and he pushed back, eventually prevailing with a ruling from the Minnesota Supreme Court.

The office was eventually abolished however, in early 2003.

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In an editorial published last week, the Star Tribune endorsed the work of the state auditor’s office, suggesting it has guarded taxpayers’ interests so effectively that most Minnesotans are unaware of it.

Arne Carlson, a Republican who served as both governor and state auditor, wrote in a blog post that the move to reduce the state auditor’s authority is motivated by politics, not the state’s best interests.

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