Reminder: Missouri’s Auditor Has Power to Promote Spending Transparency
As the 2023 legislative session opens this month, it’s heartening to hear the keynote speeches of our elected officials and the extent to which their priorities seem to be hewing toward good government. Tax cuts, education transparency and reform, Hancock Amendment reform . . . that’s a much-shortened list of the good stuff I’ve heard from policymakers on the first day of the session.
Yet while most elected officials have been sworn in and are settling into their offices this week, one important elected office remains between occupants—the office of the auditor, which gets a new officeholder on Monday, January 9. I’ve long been a fan of the state’s auditors because the office plays a critical role in promoting good, transparent, and accountable government, and I’m hopeful that over time, the legislature will vest more oversight power (and funding) in this important office.
That doesn’t mean the next auditor is without powerful tools at his disposal; he’s made clear his intention to focus some of his firepower on educational transparency in curricula, spending, and performance. That’s stupendous stuff. But the auditor ought to include revised reporting expectations for all local governments, as well. More local government transparency would also advance the treasurer’s Show-Me Checkbook.
As I reiterated on January 4, 2021, “the Auditor’s Office could make the Show-Me State a leader on the issue [of spending transparency] by leveraging the office’s existing rule-making power.” How? By using Section 105.145 of Missouri’s Revised Statutes:
The governing body of each political subdivision in the state shall cause to be prepared an annual report of the financial transactions of the political subdivision in such summary form as the state auditor shall prescribe by rule, except that the annual report of political subdivisions whose cash receipts for the reporting period are ten thousand dollars or less shall only be required to contain the cash balance at the beginning of the reporting period, a summary of cash receipts, a summary of cash disbursements and the cash balance at the end of the reporting period. [Emphasis mine]
There are many avenues for the auditor to pursue greater transparency in local spending, but importantly, it seems to me that 105.145 allows the auditor to require political subdivisions to include supporting documentation for their annual transaction reports. 105.145 clearly states that the auditor gets to prescribe the form of these summary reports, and the auditor could easily declare that these financial summaries must include all supporting transaction documents. In addition, those transactions should be made public by the auditor’s office and posted to the treasurer’s Show-Me Checkbook website.
This is, of course, only one idea in a month that is chock full of them in the legislature, but as the auditor considers projects to undertake outside the realm of education, I hope he considers reforming the way all local spending is reported to him, and to the public. The legislature could explicitly require such reporting by passing a new law, of course, and it might in 2023 or beyond. But I don’t think the auditor needs to wait for additional authority from legislators to advance the public interest in spending transparency.