- Office of the State Auditor
- Bureau of Special Investigations
- Division of Local Mandates
Media Contact for Auditor Bump's Testimony before the Committee on Ways and Means in Support of her FY22 Budget Request
Boston — Good morning, Chairman Rodrigues, Chairman Michlewitz, and members of the committee. Thank you for the opportunity to speak with you today about the work of my office and my budget request for fiscal year 2022.
While nearly every aspect of our lives has been upended, sidelined, or otherwise disrupted since we last met, I am pleased to report that my office smoothly transitioned into virtual mode and has continued on its accountability mission.
Since that time we have released:
- fifty three audits;
- a major report from the Division of Local Mandates that examined the State-Owned Land PILOT program and issues related to the property taxation of solar facilities; and
- an end of year report detailing over $8 million in public assistance fraud.
Previously, I have come before this committee and asked for allocations that would allow us to invest in new technology. I want to thank you for those investments. They are the reason why, on March 13th last year, when many agencies across state government struggled to equip their staff to work from home, we were able to transition largely seamlessly.
We take great pride in our efforts to make government work better and ask for your support to continue this work. For FY22, we are seeking what is essentially a maintenance of effort budget, one that continues current staffing levels and does not contemplate any costly new initiatives. The increase of $702,000 we are seeking primarily will accommodate increases in two office space leases and assumes a gradual return of our workforce to all of our physical locations this year. Consistent with the planning going on in other executive branch offices, I expect that when we return it will be with a new model combining in-office and virtual work. We are still in the planning stages of building that new model.
Financial support from the legislature has helped our office become a national leader in government accountability, and this continued financial commitment is increasingly important as my office undertakes auditing of federal pandemic relief allocations. That said, it is our intention to accommodate this work within our regular cycle of agency audits, rather than to set up a special audit unit, as was done a decade ago, when the office audited spending of federal assistance provided under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.
We are coordinating our work with that being performed by KPMG in the annual single audit of federal spending that is undertaken under the auspices of the Comptroller’s office. The goal is to reduce duplication of effort and provide coverage of spending that is not picked up in the single audit. Public trust demands that we provide an honest and unvarnished assessment of the appropriateness and effectiveness of the Commonwealth’s spending of CARES Act allocations and other financial relief. The budget request I have put forth will allow us to do just that.
Another project I would like to mention concerns reimbursements to municipalities for certain costs related to early voting. The efforts necessitated by the pandemic and the number of impacted elections, as well as the federal and private monies made available to facilitate distanced local, state, and national elections, have complicated the usual collection and certification to the Legislature of municipal election expense data. It has taken some time to create and test the survey mechanism we will use to collect that data from municipalities. Final testing of the technology occurred last week, and we expect to be sending it out this week, along with a schedule of planned webinars to assist municipal clerks to complete the survey. My office has been in regular communication with the Secretary of State’s Elections Division, and we be joining forces to get to you certified cost figures in time for budget-making next month.
Finally, I want to comment on two other areas that have been the subject of work by our Division of Local Mandates.
First is the recently passed police reform law. Its passage was a monumental step forward for the Commonwealth, one that the legislature should be commended for taking. Its implementation, however, is just as important.
The Massachusetts Peace Officer Standards and Training Commission needs adequate funding to succeed in its mission. DLM’s 2019 report on the state’s current police training council laid bare its inadequacies in funding. With an expanded mission, the need for additional resources is still more acute. Given the impact of the pandemic on travel, the rental car fee created as a revenue source for training is not generating enough to fund this work, and I urge you to be mindful of that as you making your funding decisions.
Second, is the issue of the PILOT program for state-owned land, which was the subject of a DLM report last year. This program provides payments to municipalities for property tax-exempt land owned by the Commonwealth. Senator Adam Hinds and I have co-sponsored legislation to fix some of the problems with this program, but at the most fundamental level it is an issue of resources.
During the last twenty years, the program’s funding has not met its statutory obligations to reimburse municipalities. Since fiscal year 2009, the SOL PILOT Program’s appropriation has remained flat, at close to $30 million, while property values have generally risen. This leaves many cities and towns, especially small ones, with revenue gaps to fill. To fully fund this program, this allocation must increase to at least $45 million. I urge you to close this gap, and to hold harmless from funding inadequacies the municipalities whose property values are not increasing at the annual average rate.
As our state continues its slow path out of this crisis, I know the job of creating a budget that supports that recovery is not an easy one. I thank you for your willingness to take on this difficult task. Please, know that my staff and I stand ready to provide any assistance we can to aid your efforts.
Thank you for your service to the residents and taxpayers of the Commonwealth, and I am happy to answer any questions you may have.