February 28, 2019

State Auditor Pat McCarthy shines light on government spending, taxes

By: Andrew Lenderman   Comments: 0
Washington Auditor Pat McCarthy talks about her office's work during the Feb. 28, 2019 AWB Lobby Lunch in Olympia, as Dan Coyne, vice chair of the AWB Government Affairs Council, looks on. (Photo: Brian Mittge/AWB)

Washington State Auditor Pat McCarthy is cracking open the dusty financial reports of more than 2,200 local governments across the state and bringing them into the digital age.

McCarthy, who spoke to business leaders Thursday at AWB’s Lobby Lunch meeting, highlighted a new online tool her staff has developed that makes it easy to look up information about local government tax collections and spending from school districts, ports, counties and more.

The public’s trust in their governments is dependent on seeing both how these governments handle challenges and when they’re doing a good job, McCarthy said.

“We need to be able to tell those stories,” she said.

The auditor’s office performed 2,700 audits last year. Washington is unique with an elected official that oversees the coffers of state and local governments, she said. This decision was made by Washington’s first leaders when it was a territory.

“You should feel very proud of our forefathers that they had insight to do that,” McCarthy said.

The auditor’s office handles fraud and whistleblower cases, audits state agencies and local governments and provides technical assistance to governments.

McCarthy also highlighted the newly-developed Financial Intelligence Tool, or FIT, which aims to make all of this dense financial information accessible to the general public.

“FIT takes that rich data and displays it in a user-friendly format,” she said. The tool includes interactive maps that allow users to simply type in their address or zip code, and track the tax collections and spending of their local fire district, school board or city council, for example. And each of these local taxing authorities are outlined in maps that give the reader context for the big picture.

It’s the kind of information that used to be available only by searching through musty filing cabinets in courthouse basements.

Data and Business Systems Specialist Duane Walz of the auditor’s office took the crowd through a test drive of the Financial Intelligence Tool, and also showed off some of the features that provide much-needed context, such as how a city’s tax collections compare with others of a similar size.

“The whole point here is there is information that we have beyond the data,” Walz said.

These tools drew applause from AWB’s Clay Hill, government affairs director for tax and fiscal policy.

“I like to say we do more good in government than we don’t,” McCarthy said. “And this is what helps to tell their stories and for us to tell our story. Our story is to be constructive – to help government be what we want it to be. We’re all taxpayers.”

AWB’s next Lobby Lunch is scheduled for Thursday, March 7. Register and learn more.