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Auditor general hopefuls focus on Penn State funding, water pollution

By   /   August 29, 2012  /   No Comments

By Eric Boehm | PA Independent

State Rep. Eugene DePasquale

HARRISBURG — The two men competing to be Pennsylvania’s next auditor general agree on the biggest issues facing the office — both promise to investigate the use of money by Penn State University and the efficacy in keeping natural gas drilling pollution out of waterways.

They also agree the race to be the state’s new fiscal watchdog is overshadowed by most other races this fall.

The campaign, it seems, will focus on credentials.

State Rep. Eugene DePasquale, D-York, told reporters Tuesday he immediately would begin an audit of how Penn State University is spending state funding. The school is exempt from the state’s right-to-know law and does not disclose financial documents.

The public would want to know what happened with the money that we invest in Penn State,” DePasquale said. “My job would be to make sure that the money was spent appropriately.”

As auditor general, DePasquale said he would be limited to investigating Penn State’s use of state dollars, and law enforcement would handle the school’s role in the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal.

DePasquale has sponsored a bill that would end a special exemption in the right-to-know law for Penn State and the other three state-related universities: Pittsburgh, Temple and Lincoln.

DePasquale was elected to the state House in 2006. His opponent in the auditor general race is state Rep. John Maher, R-Allegheny, who was elected to the House in 1997.

They are competing to replace Jack Wagner, who is at the end of his second term in office and prevented from running again by term limits.

State Rep. John Maher

In an interview Tuesday night, Maher said DePasquale is well meaning but lacks the qualifications to “ask questions that will get answers” or change how the office conducts audits.

With his credentials as a certified public accountant and founder of a Pittsburgh auditing firm prior to joining the Legislature in 1997, Maher said he is the only candidate who can bring teeth to the office.

“It seems to me that Pennsylvania is ready for an auditor general who knows how to audit,” Maher said.

The state annually audits the four state-related universities already, so the key is changing how the audits are conducted to get answers that matter, Maher said.

DePasquale responded Wednesday by arguing that being an auditor general is more than knowing how to audit. He pointed to his history in the legislative and executive branches — he worked for the state Department of Environmental Protection prior to becoming a lawmaker.

He is also an attorney and has a master’s in public administration from the University of Pittsburgh.

“I know that I know how to read a budget, and I know how to work with people in the field,” he said. “My qualifications are as strong as anyone who has ever held the job, and my goal is making sure that government works.”

On other issues, DePasquale said he would begin an audit of DEP to determine if the state was protecting its water supplies adequately from pollution caused by Marcellus shale natural gas drilling.

I do think Penn State is one (issue) that clearly comes through.  Marcellus shale is the second one,” he said. “The people want to make sure their water is being protected.”

Rather than seeking to stop the drilling, he said, his interest is in making sure it is done correctly, he said.

Maher agreed that the government’s oversight of drilling needs to be examined.

“DEP has an expansive new responsibility to deal with the Marcellus shale. The systems that were inherited by this administration were not adequate to handle that new responsibility,” he said.

Public Policy Polling, a national, independent polling firm based in North Carolina, conducted the most recent poll of the auditor general race in July, showing DePasquale with a slim lead of 36 percent to 34 percent over Maher.

That survey included 758 registered voters and had a margin of error of 3.56 percentage points.

Contact Eric at [email protected] or follow @PAIndependent on Twitter.