Our Voice: Legislature ought to enhance, instead of raid performance audits' power

Lawmakers in Olympia have their eyes on the goose that lays the golden egg. They ought not to go there.

The initiative that approved and funded performance audits found favor with Washington voters in 2005. It has a small but steady revenue fund of 0.16 percent of sales tax.

It's not a huge pot of cash, but it's big enough to keep tempting the people who hold the state's purse strings. This is the third time the Legislature has tried to raid those funds.

This time they're looking to take $8.2 million.

It is an unwise move.

The proposal is not an outright hijacking of cash; it is more of a shell game where the performance audit fund comes up short -- and costs taxpayers more.

According to the state auditor, performance audits authorized by Initiative 900 have resulted in "50 performance audits and reviews of more than 100 state and local governments, programs and services" and "identified almost $1.3 billion in potential five-year savings and increased revenue."

The auditor also reported that "state and local governments have fully or partially instituted 86 percent of our recommendations, and identified $833 million in actual savings or additional revenue."

This is an investment, not a cost.

As set out by the initiative, the performance audits are not limited to, but must include:

w Cost savings.

w Identification of services that can be reduced or eliminated.

w Identification of services that can be transferred to the private sector.

w Gaps or overlaps in programs or services and recommendations to fix these.

w Feasibility of pooling information technology systems within a department.

w Analysis of roles and functions within a department and recommendations to change or eliminate them.

w Recommendations for statutory or regulatory changes to properly carry out departmental functions.

w Analysis of the department's performance data, performance measures and self-assessment systems.

w Identification of best practices.

If, in fact, the Legislature is going to do anything with performance audits, it ought to give them a little more muscle.

The $833 million in actual savings already identified represent a significant return on the taxpayers' investment, but there are more savings to be recovered out there -- some from recommendations that were never implemented.

When you put the $833 million in savings up against the $8.2 million that the Legislature is considering raiding, it makes no sense.

Performance audits are the will of the people and a sound investment. If anything, the Legislature should strengthen the performance audits to recoup even more wasted money.