State Auditor: Accounting Expert or Policy Guru?
(Sheridan, Wyo.) Which is more useful in a government financial job: government experience or financial experience?
State Auditor candidates Nathan Winters and Kristi Racines made their opposing viewpoints clear in this discussion when they spoke at the Sheridan County Chamber of Commerce’s candidate forum Tuesday night. Both candidates have a combination of government and financial experience, but the expertise of each is clear.
“I truly believe that both Nathan and I and the third person running for this position all want us to be in the same place, however, I know how to look under the hood,” Racines said. “I know what a chart of accounts looks like, I know how the accounting system works, and I also understand there’s been some real structural issues that have been a barrier to getting this information out there.”
Racines has degrees in accounting and Spanish and is a licensed CPA. She spent years working at an accounting firm, but she has also spent time in Wyoming’s government as the CFO of the state judicial branch. The auditing functions were removed from the auditor’s office after the government found evidence of fraud in 1988, but Racines believes her accounting background will still be enormous assets in doing the job right.
“The back end of the office—while auditing may have been removed—make no mistake, it clearly demands a financial background,” Racines said. “This is directly from the statutes: ‘The state auditor is the comptroller, the chief accountant, and the official custodian of the state’s accounting records.’”
Winters argued that the most important traits in an auditor are leadership skills and policy experience.
“We do have to ask the question, ‘why do we still elect a state auditor?’ and it’s because it requires a deep policy experience and leadership skills,” Winters said. “I’ve been blessed with the opportunity to develop both of them.”
Winters has served in the legislature for six years, and most of his financial experience stems from helping to shape the state’s financial policies.
“My time as House Republican Caucus chairman and vice chairman of the judiciary means that I’ve wrestled with many of the policy decisions that are absolutely vital to this position,” Winters said.
Winters brought up an example of this policy experience when discussing how to prevent failing energy companies from leaving the state without paying their fair share in reclamation fees and taxes.
“In the legislature, we wrestled with this just a few years ago,” Winters said. “See, back when coalbed methane was really, really going on, we allowed people to do a lot of work without bonding properly. And so now what we’ve insisted on over the last couple of years is we’ve insisted that they bond in a way that is better suited to making sure the remediation of these sites happens in a responsible way.”
While Winters’s answer analyzed current energy policy, Racines’s approach toyed with line items on the balance sheet.
“The other thing that the state auditor can do: they have statutory authority to net accounts receivable against payments,” Racines said. “For example, if I’m going to cut you a check, but you owe the state money, the auditor has statutory authority to subtract that.”
Racines said that a “Wyoming perspective” is necessary to perform the job of state auditor, but she said that financial skills are just as valuable.
“All the Wyoming perspective in the world won’t help you if you don’t have the skills to do the job,” Racines said. “The auditor is the chief accountant of the state… The auditor did not pass that budget, didn’t vote on it, but is responsible for it on the back end.”
Winters said that his leadership and policy experience will help the state’s efforts to make the office’s content more accessible to the public.
“Wyoming’s data is currently transparent,” Winters said “The problem is it’s not accessible.”
Winters said that a task like rearranging the auditor’s website requires leadership skills.
“What that takes is vision,” Winters said. “That takes policy experience. That takes someone who know how to work with government without being absorbed into the framework of government.”
Racines finished her closing remarks by restating the irreplaceability of accounting experience.
“We could elect an auditor with no financial background,” Racines said. “You could also elect a coroner that’s never seen a dead body. We could elect a superintendent who’s never stepped foot inside a school. I don’t think any of those things are good for our state.”