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May 19, 2009 at 3:16 PM

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Gregoire agrees to limit cuts to state Auditor Brian Sonntag's budget

Posted by Andrew Garber

State Auditor Brian Sonntag won a scarce commodity today - more money for his budget.

Gov. Chris Gregoire and Sonntag reached a deal that's expected to give Sonntag an additional $14 million for performance audits, giving him around $26 million to spend on the program over the next two years.

Gregoire announced the agreement this afternoon when she signed a budget that trims state spending by nearly $4 billion.

The action capped weeks of controversy sparked when the Legislature approved a roughly $35 billion two-year budget - when you include federal stimulus money - that would have cut $29 million from Sonntag's performance audit program. You can read my previous story about the controversy here.

The budget contained a provision that would have allowed Sonntag to recoup some of the money if he could prove his audits actually save the state money. Performance audits are aimed at finding efficiencies in state and local governments. Sonntag blasted the Legislature, saying the move would make him a bounty hunter.

"What a dumb idea and a stupid way to manage," he said recently.

Newspaper editorial pages across the state came to his defense, urging Gregoire to veto the budget cut. So did anti-tax activist Tim Eyman, the sponsor of Initiative 900, which gave Sonntag the ability and the funding to do performance audits.

Under the agreement with Sonntag, Gregoire will restore the $29 million cut to the performance audit budget. And Sonntag has agreed to set aside $15 million of that amount to be transferred out of his budget in the next legislative session, according to the governor's office.

The remainder, $14 million, would be added back into the performance audit budget. Gregoire also vetoed the so-called bounty hunter provision.

I have a call into Sonntag's office for comment.

It's not clear yet how Democratic leaders in the House and Senate, who wanted a deeper cut in Sonntag's budget, will feel about the governor's move.

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