Guest columnist Penny Schultz: Why is State House so resistant to an audit?


Published: 07-07-2023 2:32 PM

Kudos to the Gazette for the invaluable civic work of covering State Auditor Diana Dizoglio’s forum in Williamsburg. Western Massachusetts doesn’t get a whole lot of attention from the state, so this visit by our new, feisty, change-making state auditor was a welcome event for all who attended.

DiZoglio is shaking things up in Massachusetts, as James Pentland’s front page story made clear [“Auditor pushing to scrutinize Legislature”]. At the forum, DiZoglio promised to do a performance audit of the state Legislature, to confirm that the Legislature is following through on the funds they appropriate for themselves — $47 million in the House this fiscal year, an additional $29 million in the Senate, plus $10.7 for joint legislative expenses — a significant sum.

Meanwhile, House Speaker Ronald Mariano has said that he will not cooperate with the audit as he alleges it exceeds the state auditor’s legal authority and violates the separation of powers doctrine.

There is nothing disputable about an audit. State law requires the auditor to do a performance audit of all state agencies every three years. DiZoglio has already conducted audits of the executive branch and the judiciary. The MBTA — infamous for its inefficiencies — will be audited soon.

It was not too long ago that former House Speaker Salvatore F. DiMasi faced federal public corruption charges, accused of using the power of the speaker’s office to steer multimillion-dollar contracts to a software company for legislative business in exchange for hundreds of thousands of dollars in kickbacks. DiMasi was found guilty and served prison time.

Legislative audits are routine in other states. They have been performed in Massachusetts in the past. Why would our Legislature be an exception? Is it possible that our current state Legislature is trying to hide something?

In fact, Massachusetts is rated as one of the least transparent states in the country. Bills are crafted behind closed doors, and then submitted for a vote with sometimes less that 24 hours for legislators to review them before voting on them. The way to shine a light on the legislative process is through a performance audit, and Diana DiZoglio knows that. This is what seems to so frighten Speaker Mariano and Senate President Karen Spilka.

Article continues after...

Yesterday's Most Read Articles

How can these legislators who run their respective chambers with an iron fist flat out refuse to cooperate with the obligation to submit to an audit? Sadly, the answer is that there is no mechanism in our state to force their cooperation. We are left with the power of our voices to speak out against this cronyism and lack of public input.

I hope people will contact their state legislators, Speaker Mariano, and President Spilka to express their outrage at a legislative process that is so controlled by insider power brokers including Mariano, Spilka and their cohorts.

Penny Schultz lives in Haydenville and is a member of Indivisible Williamsburg.