Republican legislative candidates made it their mantra in 2010: Cutting spending was the only way to close a looming state budget deficit. How to find the money? Candidates pointed to the state auditor’s office conducting performance audits, examining closely an agency or department’s efficiency, then making recommendations.
The mood has been reinforced by John Kasich, the Republican governor squeezing schools and local governments, forcing difficult budget decisions for the foreseeable future.
Last week, as Summit County and the elections board finally approached agreement on closing the board’s 2012 budget gap, Republican board member Alex Arshinkoff issued an invitation to the auditor’s office to get involved. The county Republican chairman suggests Auditor David Yost assess board spending “on a daily basis.”
What a splendid idea! And what might such an examination find?
For starters, the county’s latest budget offer, $6.1 million, although a compromise between the board’s original request of $9.3 million and the county’s first proposal of $4.7 million, remains far out of line with counties of similar size. Both Lucas and Montgomery counties have 2012 budgets of slightly more than $3 million.
For now, the board’s task is to run an election. The budget offer by Executive Russ Pry, which must be approved by the County Council, recognizes that reality. For its part, the board helped resolve the impasse by finally providing detailed justifications of its expenses.
Once the election is over, the task must be to continue to look for operating efficiencies that will reduce the board’s budget without affecting voters’ access to the ballot. In that, the experiences in other counties already point in directions the auditor surely will uncover, too.
Kim Zurz, the board’s Democratic deputy director, wondered aloud whether Arshinkoff really is ready “to go down that road” with the auditor. Yes, the board has cut administrative staff and slashed precincts. But its technology, personnel practices and procedures remain outdated and inefficient, something boards in Lucas and Montgomery counties recognized years ago in their operations.
On Monday, the County Council should approve the $6.1 million compromise. It then should invite David Yost to dig deeper.