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Hey Utah GOP voters, don’t forget about the auditor’s primary race

The plaque outside the Utah State Auditor’s Office inside the Utah State Capitol in Salt Lake City, June 5, 2024.
Saige Miller
The plaque outside the Utah State Auditor’s Office inside the Utah State Capitol in Salt Lake City, June 5, 2024.

If the Utah State Auditor’s Office has been top of mind lately, it’s most likely because of the drama over thousands of fake complaints in response to the state's contentious bathroom bill. Or maybe current auditor John Dougall’s memorable social media posts showing his frustration. It’s probably not because of the upcoming June 25 primary.

Even the two Republican candidates, Ricky Hatch, the Weber County Auditor and County Clerk, and Tina Cannon, the current deputy state auditor, get it.

“We are accountants, statisticians, data analysts and economists,” noted Cannon. “The social issues are not our specialty.”

The drama aside, it’s still a race Utah voters should pay attention to.

While it may not be as flashy as the race for governor, or the U.S. Senate, the state auditor is a “check on government” and a way of “ensuring more transparent and accountable government,” said David Carter, a University of Utah professor of public policy and administration.

Separate from both the legislative and executive branches, the auditor is tasked with collecting financial information from more than 1,800 different state government agencies. With that data, the office said it conducts “an independent assessment of financial operation, statutory compliance, and performance management for state and local government.”

Carter said some research indicates an auditor that “investigates government finances and the potential abuse of finances “leads to lower corruption within governmental entities.”

“There's kind of a preventative measure of just having an independent auditor who goes out and does this work, [which] leads to more effective, efficient government, ideally more transparent and accountable government as well.”

Cannon wants to replace her boss, John Dougall, who is campaigning to fill Republican Rep. John Curtis’s seat in the 3rd Congressional District.

She wants to be a “watchdog” when it comes to how government entities use taxpayer money and knows the consequences when that money is misused. Cannon was elected to the Morgan County Council soon after the county administrator was charged with embezzling money out of the county’s general fund to pay off personal debt. To her, the criminal act spurred a massive amount of “distrust in the government” within her community.

“I've seen the impacts of not having oversight in place, and I am passionate about making sure that the compliance is there,” Cannon said.

“We tax income, sales and property in Utah, and I know who we took it from. So I am passionate that we are very careful with it, that we use it for only the things we said we were going to use it for, that there is no waste and that they're efficient with the money.”

If elected, Cannon said she would create more searchable tools on the Transparent Utah site for residents to look up how much the state is giving to different charitable organizations or a tool to track recreation funding or where infrastructure money is going.

Hatch, a certified public accountant, wants the job to maintain public trust and build better relationships with the local entities the office will be working with. He views the job as “conducting financial X-rays, or financial MRI's” on the agencies they are required to audit.

He has two goals in mind if he wins.

“It's to ensure the transparency is sound and kept in the financial affairs of the government – both state and local,” he said. “Secondly, it's to improve the relationships between the state auditor’s office and all of the stakeholders, including those who are audited.”

Establishing better relationships with the various agencies is crucial and Hatch said he believes the office could “do a better job” of making sure they have the “training and tools that they need to do the complex financial reporting, to meet those requirements, and get it right the first time.”

He would also like to be “more proactive in notifying the public and the interested citizens” when reports are out. Much like what the Utah Legislature does with legislation, he wants to set up a tracking tool that lets residents know an audit is in the process and enable push notifications for when it is completed. Cannon mentioned a similar idea.

As for what they would like to audit if they were to win the election, both want to look into the proposed “entertainment district” in downtown Salt Lake City and the potential Major League Baseball stadium. Those projects are expected to cost taxpayers at least $2 billion. They also want to keep tabs on the Inland Port Authority. The stadiums and the Inland Port Authority have both been exempt from the procurement process through legislative action.

“Any time you see an agency that has been exempted from state procurement code and rules, we know that we're going to have a problem and we're going to have to start auditing those,” Cannon said. “And that has been a continual problem for Inland Port. MLB looks like it's going to go down that same route as it was exempted from that same oversight.”

Hatch agreed, especially on the procurement point.

“These are entities where a lot of money flows through, and they may not be subject to all of the procurement and transparency requirements that your regular financial or governmental entity would be responsible for,” Hatch said. “And so I'd really like to take a look at those.”

The June 25 primary election winner will head to the Nov. 5 general election, where all registered voters will choose between the Republican candidate, Democratic candidate Cathrine Voutaz and Constitution candidate Jeffrey Ostler.

Saige is a politics reporter and co-host of KUER's State Street politics podcast
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