State lawmakers wrapped up the 2015 session early Friday — but not before refusing to approve one of the pet projects of Gov. Doug Ducey, a defeat gubernatorial press aide Daniel Scarpinato blamed on “special interests and lobbyists doing shady business with the state.”
But he would not name names.
Ducey had asked for authority to unilaterally appoint an inspector general who would have a badge, police powers and the ability to subpoena people to testify and produce documents. And if someone did not comply, the legislation provided the inspector general to go to court to enforce the subpoenas.
But the idea had a hard time gaining traction, even among a Legislature controlled by Ducey’s Republican Party.
Senate President Andy Biggs said there is nothing wrong with the premise.
“Not just Republicans, but Democrats, too, we want to eliminate fraud, waste and corruption in government agencies,” he said. The problem for many lawmakers, said Biggs, is the inspector general – and employees he or she would be able to hire – would have “too broad powers for their taste.”
“They wanted to say, ‘Let’s maybe narrow it down a little bit,’“ Biggs said.
Scarpinato said offers were made to do just that, including requiring Senate confirmation of Ducey’s pick, an annual appearance before a joint legislative committee and “a lot of disclosure elements.”
But Biggs said concerns remained.
“You’ve got to be very careful with who gets subpoena powers, very careful with designation of law enforcement agencies, and where those reside,” he said.
Rep. David Stevens, R-Sierra Vista, expressed similar concerns.
A defense contractor, Stevens said he has worked with offices of inspectors general in that arena. But he said what Ducey finally unveiled in mid-March was far different than that concept.
Rep. Kelly Townsend, R-Mesa, had her own cocnerns.
“This new position keeps secret any records prepared or obtained by the inspector general as part of an investigation,” she said, and would make the records “available only to the governor.”
And then there were the objections of Attorney General Mark Brnovich, who called the office unnecessary.
“Arizona already has an independent law enforcement agency to investigate fraud and criminal activity,” Brnovich said in a statement about the legislation. “It’s the Attorney General’s Office.”
Scarpinato, however, insisted the legislation was buried not by legislative concerns but by those who did not want an independent investigator poking around.
“This was a lobbyist’s worst nightmare,” he said. “Clearly, the special interests came out to try to stop this.”
Which lobbyists and special interests?
“I’m not going to get into that tonight,” Scarpinato said.
“We believe that people who are doing business with the state, that the state has a responsibility to make sure that they’re not taking advantage of the taxpayers,” he said. “And that was a large part of what this was about.”
Biggs said one of the problems for lawmakers was being asked to create not just an inspector general, but an entirely new state agency from scratch without being given time or sufficient details.
Ducey had first suggested the concept in his State of the State speech in January.
“This public advocate would be equipped with a badge and subpoena power to go in, ask the tough questions and be a watchdog for the taxpayers,” the new governor said at the time. But it was not until less than three weeks ago that Ted Vogt, the governor’s chief of operations, presented the details to a Senate committee.
Biggs suggested that rush played a role in the discomfort of lawmakers in giving the go-ahead. He said lawmakers believe if they are going to set up such an agency with broad powers, they wanted to “get it right.”
Scarpinato declined to say what Ducey plans to do next or whether the governor believes he has the power to name someone to that kind of post without legislative authority.
“We’re going to look at any way we can to try to protect the taxpayer,” he said