Since I became State Auditor, I have directed the men and women at my office to aggressively pursue those who steal your tax dollars. My office has returned more taxpayer money than in any other four-year period in the office’s history. We’ve uncovered more waste, fraud, and abuse than ever. We’ve issued the largest single demand in the history of the office. And you’ve probably noticed the avalanche of prison sentences that have been handed down for the people we’ve investigated.
To be more specific, my office has recovered over $65 million of your money since July 2018. We have arrested over 100 people since then. One of our investigations led to the largest-ever civil settlement resulting from an investigation at the State Auditor’s office.
When I became State Auditor, I made it clear to my team we would work to hold everyone who steals taxpayer money in this state accountable, regardless of who they are or who they know. Every employee in my office has bought into that mission, and the auditors and investigators have responded by doing incredible work.
After all, these crimes have a victim: you—the taxpayer. From heads of state agencies to municipal water clerks, my office continues to prove we are watching how taxpayer money is spent.
Sometimes I get asked, “Why haven’t you arrested this person or that person?” It’s important to remember this: my office does not have the authority to charge people with crimes. Prosecutors make that decision. And we don’t arrest people if they have not been charged with a crime. We are the auditors—the factfinders. But working with these prosecutors, we’ve sent a strong message about the consequences of stealing your money.
In addition to holding people accountable for stealing or misspending your money, my office has produced numerous reports highlighting how our state could be a better steward of your money. For example, we partnered with a data analytics firm to help school districts across the state save money and operate more efficiently. My office issued reports on these studies, with a roadmap to investing more money in K-12 classrooms instead of on administrative salaries.
I also directed my staff to study how much issues like crime and fatherlessness cost taxpayers each year. The results show these societal issues cost you hundreds of millions of dollars each year. These reports are crucial because they show where your tax dollars are being spent. The reports also help keep government accountable to you, the boss. I am looking forward to continuing our reports to shine a light on other important issues our state faces.
One of the most critical challenges our state faces is population loss and brain drain (the loss of talented young people to other states). Here at the Auditor’s Office, we have already started tackling this issue. I created the Stay in the ‘Sip Fellowship to pay tuition for accounting students who stay and work in Mississippi. In return for tuition payments, these students commit to coming to work at the Auditor’s Office for at least two years. This program has already proven to be a great success, and I hope other state agencies use this idea.
These record-breaking numbers and accomplishments only show the last four years. I know the numbers will grow as the men and women here at the Auditor’s Office continue their hard work. As State Auditor, I can also promise to keep talking about tough issues and energetically taking on hard cases.
Shad White is the 42nd State Auditor of Mississippi.
This op-ed was originally published in the Clarion-Ledger.