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Anderson seeks rematch for state auditor

Claiming to be the taxpayers' watchdog, former State Auditor Pat Anderson hopes to make a comeback in that post, now held by Democrat Rebecca Otto. Here, Anderson speaks to a recent Beltrami County Republicans dinner. Pioneer Photo/Brad Swenson

"I'm going to get the bulldog back out," former State Auditor Pat Anderson said at the recent Beltrami County Republicans dinner.

In her 2006 re-election bid, Anderson had a huge inflatable bulldog she used in parades to symbolize her role as the taxpayers' watchdog.

"That's what we need -- a strong, strong watchdog," she told the crowd.

Anderson will attempt this year to return to her office, one that she lost in 2006 to Democrat Rebbeca Otto, a former state legislator. Earlier, she entered the race for governor but then decided to switch to regain her old post.

"We are at a real crossroads," she said in an interview about the state facing at least a $5 billion deficit when lawmakers convene next year. Reform is needed, she adds.

"She hasn't been out there," Anderson said of Otto, adding that at one press conference a reporter didn't even know who the current state auditor was.

"We need everything from a new LGA (Local Government Aid) formula that makes sense, because right now we have this old formula that has been politicized and then gutted, gutted, gutted," Anderson said. "What exists now as no logic to it."

Also cut was the Homestead Market Credit, an obscure property credit that isn't state aid, she said. "It's how the state bought down property taxes ... it's money the municipalities won't collect."

She believes it is the state auditor's role to advocate for local governments, and also to educate local governments. In her prior term, her advice on "essential services" eligible for LGA didn't sit well with rural communities. She declared libraries a "non-essential" local government service.

Anderson said she called libraries non-essential services for cities. "Libraries are run by counties, typically. ... I've heard the library argument, and when we did the library thing, libraries almost everywhere were a function of county government.

"I'll give that one," Anderson said about rethinking libraries as an essential rural cities function of government, adding that they are mostly county government functions.

"We have very, very different styles," Anderson said of Otto.

For instance, in issuing a report of county finances, Anderson would notate county fund balances and remark if they were too high. Otto, in her reports, issues the numbers without remark.

"The fact that government and citizens have something to compare, such as what is Beltrami County's fund balance in comparison to Itasca County's fund balance, and does it make sense," she said.

While being critical of high fund balances, Anderson said she understands that balances are needed for cash flow between property tax collections, which are only twice a year.

"I'm a former mayor, I know you need to have a certain fund balance," she said. "A lot of the public doesn't understand that, that they're sitting on a pile of cash. Yes, but they need to have some of this cash for cash flow purposes."

Having too low fund balances is also a problem, she said, noting that many school districts are in that position now having to borrow money after the state delayed payments to them.

"The state is flat broke," Anderson said. "We haven't had reform ... since the property tax shift for K-12. We have serious problems, They have to be fixed, we can't keep kicking the can down the road."

If state government were kept on autopilot, state income taxes, sales taxes, corporate taxes would have to be raised 25 percent to cover the budget problem, she said.

"That's not going to happen," she said. "There aren't enough rich people to cover that. ... It requires rethinking what we do in government. It requires reform, everything from what government should be providing and who should be doing it."

She likes an Association of Minnesota Counties proposal to have county deputies take over duties of road state troopers.

Somebody has to get on a bully pulpit and start leading, bringing these people together," Anderson said.

That could mean sending more state duties to local governments, but also to remove unfunded mandates for services foisted onto local governments.

She looks to a bill she pushed in 2005 to allow the state auditor to get waivers for certain mandates. "It wasn't all of them, but it was a good start. ... I'm a big local control person."

Recently, she worked for Gov. Tim Pawlenty as a commissioner who combined several cabinet-level departments. "There's more to be done there," she said. "You need to push even more cooperation, such as counties talking about joint service centers."

Anderson sees her role as ensuring local governments spend tax dollars correctly and wisely, to ferret out waste, fraud and abuse in local units of government such as cities, counties, school districts, including the Metropolitan Council.

"An active state auditor sees her job as more than just making existing government work better; she sees her job as influencing creation of a better government -- a less intrusive government, a government that at the state level performs its constitutional obligations and performs them well and at the local levels provides citizens with essential services commensurate with the taxes they pay," says Anderson's Web site.

In 2006, candidate Otto was critical of errors in math in some of Anderson's reports. Otto this year has already pointed out errors in Anderson's campaign finance reports.

"That's her thing, and I'm ignoring her," Anderson said, "because it's so stupid. The stuff from the reports, we did hundreds of studies it was a decimal point in a table that didn't affect the results. It's just stupid."

Staff do the reports, she said, and it's the same staff that Otto has.

Otto "has done almost nothing in four years, and everybody knows that." Anderson said. "She's been invisible; she's not been a watchdog; she isn't educating the public. ... She's a do-nothing auditor.

"There are very stark differences," she adds. "Is that what you want? Or do want someone who is a very active auditor who's going to try to fix problems, go after bad guys and give the information to people that they desperately want?"