Indiana State Auditor Tera Klutz wants Hoosiers to know: regardless of her title, she isn’t really auditing anything.
“I always like to be on the same page with anybody in the room and I feel like I spend a lot of time explaining that I don’t audit governments, I don’t audit tax returns, I won’t audit your township,” Klutz said. “I think it’s confusing for the public.”
During her election campaign last year, Klutz floated the idea of changing the name of her office to comptroller – a change several other state governments have made over the years. The proposal has the support of the General Assembly and is included in Gov. Eric Holcomb’s proposed state’s two-year budget.
But the office of auditor — along with the secretary of state and state treasurer — is enshrined in the state constitution, meaning a simple name change likely requires a constitutional amendment.
“I feel like, over the last six years, I’ve done a lot of explaining about my role… the term ‘auditor’ has changed over the last few hundred years,” Klutz, who previously conducted audits in the public and private sectors, said. “I definitely put a lot of thought into it and we’re trying to change it to say comptroller to more accurately reflect our duties.”
What’s in a name?
In practice, the auditor has the responsibility to balance the state’s checkbook and pay state employees – ensuring that the government money spent goes to the right place and reporting it through the state transparency portal.
But few states run their accountancy offices in the same way – and there isn’t even agreement on what to call the office.
Some states assign the duties of fiscal oversight to a controller, comptroller or examiner, names used somewhat interchangeably with auditor. But other states wrap those duties into other offices – such as treasury or even secretary of state.
Klutz maintains that the office of auditor should remain separate from other agencies because it establishes a system of checks and balances. But some states don’t elect an auditor – or an equivalent to auditor – at all.
Roughly half of states hold elections for the role and another two states – Maine and Tennessee – elect their auditors through the state legislature. In the remaining states, the governor nominates someone to the role and the legislature confirms the appointment.
Other states have both an elected auditor and an appointed auditor, including Minnesota, Utah and Washington. Those state leaders split their duties, one auditing local units of government or agencies and another evaluating the state’s fiscal management.
Indiana’s auditor doesn’t review agency spending to detect fraud, but does act as an accountant for the state by checking budgets and administering payroll.
What does it take to change a name?
State ballot initiatives or referendums allow every resident to vote on a proposal in a more direct form of democracy. Several states have passed marijuana reform using this process, including Michigan, bypassing their state legislatures.
But generally Indiana doesn’t allow that — with the exception of local school funding referendums.
To change the Constitution, the language must pass in two successive general assemblies – meaning an election must occur between the two – before appearing on the ballot the following year. A resolution proposing to change Indiana’s constitutional language guaranteeing bail faces the same uphill road this year.
Because her ‘auditor’ title is specified in the state constitution, Klutz’s office prepared to go the lengthy constitutional amendment route. But legislators Klutz consulted worried that placing the name change before voters would be confusing and many might believe the referendum would eliminate the office of auditor entirely.
As an alternative, Klutz said the State Budget Agency proposed putting the name change into the budget, which is guaranteed to pass in some form.
“The auditor of state is officially known as the state comptroller. After June 30, 2023, the auditor of state shall use the title “state comptroller” in conducting state business, in all contracts, on business cards, on stationery, and with other means of communication as necessary. The change in title under this subsection does not invalidate any documents or transactions conducted in the name of the auditor of state,” the budget language says. “After June 30, 2023, state agencies shall refer to the auditor of state as the state comptroller when adopting agency rules, and references to the auditor of state in the Indiana Administrative Code are considered references to the state comptroller.”
However, Klutz said the office of auditor would still appear on the ballot and go through Indiana’s primary convention process because both elections must adhere to the Indiana Constitution. Klutz likened it to a company “doing business as” under a name other than their legal name.
Other states have successfully changed their auditors to comptrollers or controllers through a ballot initiative, such as Illinois in 1973 and Idaho in 1994. Both states have a simpler process than Indiana.
Still, Klutz hopes that a name change, even if it doesn’t change the constitutional office of auditor, will at least be a more accurate description of her duties.
“I’m trying to quell some of that confusion; I obviously don’t want to create more,” Klutz said. “My hope is that, if we can move forward with this change, that at least I will set the expectation that I don’t audit governments or individuals.”