State auditor's duties are new sticking point in special session talks

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On Monday it seemed that an agreement on school funding had opened the door for Minnesota lawmakers to approve a budget in a special session.

But on Tuesday another obstacle emerged to prolong the uncertainty about when the state will finally get a new budget squared away: the state auditor's office.

One of the laws approved in the waning hours of last month's legislative session allows Minnesota counties to hire accountants from the private sector to conduct financial reviews, instead of having the state auditor do it.

Gov. Mark Dayton signed the bill into law but now wants a promise from legislators that, during this upcoming special session, they'll take out the provision about the state auditor's office, WCCO reports.

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State Auditor Rebecca Otto tells WCCO lawmakers were sleep deprived when they put together the bill, noting that it repeals some of her authority beginning July 1 of this year, while revised rules don't take effect until August of 2016.

Dayton, a Democrat who once served as state auditor, called the change unacceptable. MPR News says he told reporters this week: "If the Legislature wants to eviscerate that office, they ought to go to the voters of Minnesota in a constitutional amendment and face up to it that way...."

Republican House Speaker Kurt Daudt tells MPR the provision about the auditor's office was included in the bill during the give-and-take negotiations of the session and he doesn't think his caucus will agree to take it out.

MPR also says the executive director of the Association of Minnesota Counties, Julie Ring, has backed change as a way to improve competition and ensure counties are getting "the best product at the best price for the taxpayers we serve."

In an editorial published Tuesday, 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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