OTHER OPINION: More agressive audit standards needed

By Sun Herald, Biloxi/Gulfport

There is no comfort in learning that neighboring states are as lax as Mississippi in holding public officials accountable for the spending of public funds.
In Alabama and Louisiana and Tennessee, as in Mississippi, the excuse is the same. Lack of funding.
That excuse is, frankly, lame.
Every government agency and program in every state ought to be required to use a portion of its own budget to pay for an independent audit of its finances.
In Mississippi, each city and county must pay for an annual audit out of its own revenue.
So why not require each state agency to do the same?
Annual audits would dissuade or discover waste, fraud and abuse. They would also, as Michael Newsom reports in Saturday’s Sun Herald, identify areas where money could be better spent or saved.
“I believe the audit process pays for itself in efficiencies and the effectiveness of the programs,” said Louisiana Legislative Auditor Daryl Purpera.
Purpera said better auditing of tax-credit programs could reveal some credits aren’t yielding enough benefit to the state, which could drive budget adjustments toward better uses of money. For example, he did a recent audit of Louisiana’s movie tax-credit program, which is designed to bring film industry dollars to the state. He found it gave out $196 million in credits in 2010, but Louisiana received only an estimated $27 million in return.
“That’s what you have to be careful about with all government programs,” he said. “We appropriate money for them. We set them up. We charge people with carrying them out. But are we doing a very good job of going behind to make sure they accomplish what they are supposed to accomplish? That’s what an auditor can do for the state.”
Yet in Mississippi, Newsom reports, more than half of the state’s 120 agencies, boards and commissions go for years without being held financially accountable. And one state program, the Mississippi Prepaid Affordable College Tuition Plan, has just been audited for the first time since it was created in 1996.
Mississippi State Auditor Stacey Pickering and Gov. Phil Bryant should move more aggressively to ensure every dollar of taxpayers’ money is well spent.
Sun Herald, Biloxi/Gulfport