And I Hereby Request an Audit of…

Audits Gone Wild

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If you aren't requesting an audit of something, or if you don't work for something that somebody wants audited, you're a nobody in California politics today.

Yes, Sacramento has gone audit crazy.

Everyone is over-compensating, of course. The revelations of $54 million in hoarded state parks funds and small discrepancies in special funds have suddenly made auditing popular. Everyone wants to know where the money is -- or wants to make whatever entities they dislike spend time under the microscope.

Legislators are calling for an audit of the state's mental health fund, created by Prop 63. Business interests want an audit of the Air Resources Board, which has been a target of their criticism.

And everyone wants to audit every inch of the state parks department. Yesterday.

Since I don't want to be left out, why don't we audit the University of California? Or the Public Utilities Commission? Or the state auditor?

How can you have audits if you don't trust the auditor?

All the auditing might be healthy -- if it weren't so misleading to a public that already knows too little about how the state works.

Californians still believe that the state's problems are merely a matter of poor accounting or waste.

There's both, of course, but not enough to explain the state's financial problems.

California is short of money because it can't govern itself, because there are so many tax and spending rules locked in place that planning, management and tradeoffs aren't possible.

The one audit that the state could really use is a performance audit -- of the voters who have constructed this broken system over the generations.

Because the big question is not what cash is in which account today.

The big question is why there are so many accounts in the first place--and why it's so hard to keep track of all of them.

Lead Prop Zero blogger Joe Mathews is California editor at Zocalo Public Square, a fellow at Arizona State University’s Center for Social Cohesion, and co-author of California Crackup: How Reform Broke the Golden State and How We Can Fix It (University of California, 2010).

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