Pa. auditor general hopefuls tout their credentials
Current Auditor General Jack Wagner is barred by term limits from continuing in office.
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Each of the two state representatives competing to be the next auditor general argues that his professional experience -- one as an accountant, the other as a lawyer and administration official -- best prepares him to examine the finances and performance of government programs.
With Auditor General Jack Wagner, a Pittsburgh Democrat, barred by term limits from continuing in office, Rep. Eugene DePasquale, 41, D-York, and Rep. John Maher, 52, R-Upper St. Clair, are battling for the statewide office.
Throughout the campaign, Mr. Maher, a member of the Legislature since 1997, has touted his years as an auditor to argue he is the obvious choice, often with some version of the line: "Pennsylvania deserves an auditor general who knows how to audit."
"Can you imagine what our law enforcement system would look like if attorneys general weren't attorneys?" he said at a candidate debate last week at Dickinson College in Carlisle, Cumberland County. "To do the auditing part of the auditor general's job, if one of my opponents is elected, they're going to need to hire an auditor to do it."
Mr. Maher, a certified public accountant, points as evidence of his expertise to his authorship of a government accounting textbook service in the New York office of a national accounting firm and founding of his own firm, Maher Duessel, in Pittsburgh.
Mr. DePasquale, a member of the Legislature since 2007, counters that recent auditors general have not needed technical accounting backgrounds to uncover problems through their audits. He points to his background as an attorney working in economic development for the city of York and as a deputy secretary in the Department of Environmental Protection as experience that prepares him to serve as auditor general.
"There are different types of expertise," Mr. DePasquale said. "There's budget expertise. There's also expertise in knowing what happens on the ground, whether it be the business communities in state programs or how the drillers interact with the regulators in DEP.
"Those are areas I have that technical expertise and will be ready on Day 1 to go."
Also running for the post is Libertarian candidate Betsy Summers, who described herself at the Dickinson debate as the only contender free of political allegiances and obligations in Harrisburg.
"I'm the only candidate who can claim true independence," she said. "They will say they can be independent, but I can truly be independent as a Libertarian."
A July survey by the Democratic firm Public Policy Polling had Mr. DePasquale at 36 percent and Mr. Maher at 34 percent, within the margin of error of 3.56 percent. The poll showed 31 percent of voters undecided.
Campaign finance reports filed last month show Mr. DePasquale with an edge in fundraising, propelled by contributions from labor unions.
Mr. Maher said he would use his experience to revise the approach of the office. He said he would release school district audits more quickly and ask more useful questions.
"I am going to be in there with my sleeves rolled up and my green eyeshade on, overhauling the approach to auditing," he said.
Mr. DePasquale has said he would examine transportation infrastructure funding, the effectiveness of jobs program and how the state is protecting drinking water from pollution by drilling.
First Published October 18, 2012 12:00 am