Dorset Democrat runs for auditor, wants oversight of climate change regulation

by Guy Page

February 4, 2020 – The Vermont State Auditor of Accounts should be empowered to pump the brakes on climate change regulation, according to a bill sponsored by Rep. Linda Joy Sullivan (D-Dorset), who yesterday announced she will run for auditor against incumbent Doug Hoffer.

The primary is Tuesday, August 11. Both candidates are Democrats, but there are differences. Hoffer has won twice as a Progressive/Democrat. His campaign page includes a photo of him and Bernie Sanders together, with an enthusiastic recommendation by the senator and presidential candidate. He worked in Burlington City Hall for Mayor Bernie Sanders in the 1980’s-90’s.

Sullivan – a CPA and professional auditor who represents a fiscally conservative district – is often seen as a “blue dog” or conservative Democrat. For example, she was among the handful of Democrats who voted against H107, paid family leave.

H905, “relating to the Vermont State Auditor and potential legislation and rules concerning climate change,” was introduced by Sullivan and Rep. Cynthia Browning (D-Arlington) Jan. 28. It says the “State Auditor shall review any proposed rules and plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions for effectiveness and issue a report within three months. Should the proposed rules be deemed insufficient by the Auditor and if the selectboards of at least 20 municipalities within the State within 30 days of the issuance of the Auditor’s report request that the Auditor file suit, the Auditor shall file suit asking that a court direct the relevant agency or department to rewrite the rules.”

If passed into law, H905 could provide an important check on the regulatory power granted by proposed bill H.688, the Global Warming Solutions Act, which requires all branches of state government to help meet strict carbon emission reduction goals. H688 has 87 House sponsors – Sullivan not among them – and is currently under review by the House Energy and Technology Committee. Gov. Scott has said he will oppose climate change legislation that hurts the Vermont economy, but has not yet said he would veto H688.

An empowered auditor also could check the regulatory power of the Legislative Committee on Administrative Rules (LCAR), which would review GWSA-inspired regulation. Both chair Sen. Mark MacDonald (D-Orange) and Vice-chair Amy Sheldon (D-East Middlebury) are co-sponsors of GWSA legislation.

Sullivan also holds an MBA and a law degree. She sits on the House Institutions and Corrections committee. “My experience as a legislator has taught me that many of our State programs are inefficient and wasteful,” Sullivan said. “We need to be especially vigilant given our size to protect our public resources against waste and abuse.”

Nothing on Hoffer’s campaign or official Auditor web page indicate a position on climate change regulation. Recently he has spoken out against Gov. Scott’s Worker Relocation program and has questioned the benefit of some state economic development programs, as well as the use of state lake cleanup funds.

Hoffer does not support H905, for reasons he describes below in this email he sent to Browning and Sullivan and shared today with Vermont Daily Chronicle:

 “I have consulted with my staff on H.905 and while I appreciate what you are trying to accomplish, I don’t think the role you have carved out for my office will work.

“I have two primary concerns. First, the enforcement role outlined in the bill for my office would jeopardize our compliance with the independence rules under generally accepted government auditing standards promulgated by the U.S. GAO and which we are required to follow (32 V.S.A. §163).

“My second concern involves the level of expertise/resources that this role could require my office to maintain. Because of the small size of the SAO, we employ generalist auditors to provide us with the flexibility to audit a wide variety of topics. In the vast majority of cases, our generalist auditors have the expertise to adequately address our audit objectives. However, because H.905 would require that we forecast effectiveness on a very technical topic on an ongoing basis we would need to employ (or possibly train) an internal specialist or seek a contract with an organization to provide this expertise.

“To be clear, once new rules are adopted and take effect, we will certainly consider undertaking an audit to review compliance and performance. I think that this is a more appropriate role for the SAO than that contained in H.905.”