The Alabama House of Representatives rejected a Constitutional amendment to abolish the elected position of State Auditor and to transfer the auditor’s staff and resources to the State Treasurer.
The Senate Governmental Affairs Committee gave a favorable report to legislation that would, if ratified by the voters, abolish the elected position of State Auditor.
Senate Bill 38 was an amendment to the Constitution of 1901 that would eliminate this elected position in eight years. Sponsored by State Sen. Andrew Jones (R-Centre), SB38 was carried on the House floor by State Rep. Debbie Wood (R-Valley).
The current elected auditor, Jim Zeigler (R ), is term-limited from running again.
Wood explained that the auditor would be abolished eight years from January.
Because it was a Cnstitutional amendment, it would have been on the Nov. 8 general election ballot for voters to ultimately decide.
“I am not making the decision [nor are] you,” Wood said. “The people of Alabama are allowed to vote on it, and they decide if they want smaller government or not.”
State Rep. Rolanda Hollis (D-Birmingham) said, “We don’t know if the treasurer can handle this added responsibility.”
State Rep. Joe Lovvorn (R-Auburn) introduced a motion to abolish the office in four years.
State Rep. Thomas Jackson (D-Thomasville) said, “To be fiscally responsible, do it beginning on Jan. 8.”
Lovvorn said, “There is a lot of money that [has been] invested by the candidates running for this office.”
State Rep. Napoleon Bracy (D-Prichard) said, “This amendment will not stand because whoever wins this office will come back and say that he is a constitutional officer and deserves another term.”
“We should not allow anyone else to sit in this office and do nothing for four years,” Bracy said. “I have no idea what the State Auditor actually does. This person appears to be the most useless person we have in state government.”
The House voted to reject the Lovvorn amendment.
State Rep. Brett Easterbrook (R-Chatham) said, “In my opinion, the people who do the audits should be under the elected auditor. In a corporation, the auditor should not report to the CEO. I think we have this completely backwards. I would like to see this go the other way. I will not support this.”
State Rep. Arnold Mooney (R-Indian Springs) said, “Over the years we have stripped the auditor of his responsibilities.”
“We as a body moved the Examiners of Public Accounts from under the elected State Auditor,” Mooney said. “I thought we were wrong to do that. We should be thinking about what to do for the best of the people of Alabama.”
“I have never seen a merger which resulted in doing a better job,” State Rep. Mary Moore (D-Birmingham) said. “The state treasurer goes from year to year. It is the staff that does the work because the person that is elected does not have to know anything about finance. Why not make it a cabinet position under the governor to keep the staff where they are doing what they do?”
“We did that with ALEA,” Moore said of the merger of all the state law enforcement functions. “We did it in 2010, and now it is 2022, and it is still not working.”
“I promise you that it will be overwhelming on the state Treasurer,” Moore said. “We have been trying to operate government as a business, and it is not working.”
Wood said that downsizing government by eliminating the elected State Auditor would show the people of Alabama that the legislature is serious about being fiscally conservative.
Wood said, “People have said we are not conservative. We are not fiscally responsible.”
State Rep. John Rogers (D-Birmingham) said, “That is nothing; that is a drop in the bucket. We just spent $400 million for new prisons, and that was just a down payment.”
Supporters of the legislation narrowly passed a cloture motion brought by State Rep. Wes Kitchens (R-Arab); a prior attempt by Kitchens 45 minutes earlier to cloture debate failed by just one vote.
State Rep. Andrew Sorrell (R-Muscle Shoals), a candidate for auditor, then invoked Rule 32 which forbids members from voting on absent members’ machines – a common practice in the legislature.
The vote was 46 to 36 in favor of the amendment, but constitutional amendments require a three-fifths majority of both Houses of the legislature so passage requires 63 votes. The vote came 17 votes short of the required number.
Around 1940, the Alabama Legislature had a dispute with the State Auditor. They punished the office of State Auditor by taking most of his staff and powers away and placing them with the Examiner of Public Accounts. The Examiner of Public Accounts is not an executive branch agency controlled by the governor or responsible to the Attorney General but rather is an appointed position that is controlled by the legislature.
Stan Cooke, Rusty Glover, and Andrew Sorrell are all running for the position of State Auditor in the May 24 Republican primary. No Democratic candidate qualified to run for the office.
Thursday was the final day of the 2022 Alabama Regular Legislative Session.
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