As every family knows, balancing a budget involves hard work, tough decisions, creative thinking and constant scrutiny and adjustments.
Facing a nearly $3.5 million budget deficit when I took office as Pennsylvania’s Auditor General in January 2013, I quickly realized sacrifices needed to be made to cut costs and balance the budget.
We developed a strategic plan and a multi-year budget model to help us continue producing meaningful audits to help make government operating more effectively and efficiently as we contend with having the lowest number of employees in decades.
At last count, my department saved taxpayers more than $2 million since 2013. The savings were critical because our department’s budget had been reduced each year since 2008, while costs continue to rise. Even with our cost-cutting efforts, we continue to struggle to keep pace with rising expenses over which we have no control. For example, in the fiscal year that begins next July, we are projecting a 71 percent increase in employee costs from pensions, health care, workers’ compensation and other mandated expenses.
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Most of our expenses were reduced through improvements in technology and changes in how we do business. We saved $750,000 in net travel and transportation costs by cutting our fleet of taxpayer-paid vehicles by more than 65 percent — going from 241 to 80. Since 60 percent of our staff work outside the office, we implemented policies and provided modern technology so they can work remotely more efficiently.
Our improved efficiency measures allowed us to significantly reduce or eliminate leased office space and parking throughout the state, saving $400,000 annually. In Pittsburgh alone, we will save taxpayers $110,000 annually by going from more than 4,000-square-feet to just over 700-square-feet of office space. Offices in Philadelphia, Erie, and Scranton were also downsized; the New Castle office was closed.
Paper purchases were cut in half largely through increased use of electronic processes, online audit distribution, and two-sided copying. By upgrading our human resources, finance, purchasing and other critical administrative functions, we reduced our annual expenditures by approximately $694,000. More than $160,000 was cut by outsourcing the department’s in-house print shop to another state agency.
While expenses were slashed, the quality of our work and our high expectations have not been compromised. We cleared a backlog of 1,500 audits during my first six months in office, and we completed more than 3,400 audits last year. We identified more than $40 million in underpayments of taxes, wasteful spending, misallocation of funds and potential fraud. We recommended improvements to state government operations in such areas as elderly and home care, public welfare, dog law, education, municipal pension reform, job creation and the horse racing industry.
As the state’s top fiscal watchdog, I am committed to improving Pennsylvania. I am proud to share this message and encourage other agencies to consider adopting similar cost-cutting and operational reforms.
The people of Pennsylvania expect and deserve their tax dollars to be spent effectively and efficiently.