It is an honor to serve as Missouri's state auditor, and I take my role as your independent watchdog seriously.
It is my job to tell Missourians who is corrupting our government and to hold the powerful accountable to the people of this state.
I believe in this office - in the importance of being an advocate for citizens, and in the ability to make government work better for people.
I'm proud of what we've accomplished. Our audits have identified more than $300 million in government waste, fraud, abuse and mismanagement.
And because of our audits, 38 criminal counts have been brought against corrupt public officials. As a result of the work of my office, government officials have been kicked out of office, received felony convictions, and made to repay the money stolen from taxpayers.
When corruption is unchecked and when politicians are serving themselves and not the people, we bring accountability. Each time we expose corruption and abuse, it makes an impact. It puts others on notice that their wrongdoing will see the light of day.
When I travel the state, I hear from Missourians who tell me they feel like the system is rigged against them. Missourians are frustrated. I understand that frustration.
People work hard for what they have. They work hard to provide an opportunity for themselves and for their families. They expect government to respect their dollars.
They want good roads, good schools, and to feel safe in their communities. Missourians ask government and its leaders to do the hard work of being efficient and responsible with their money. But it's clear from my audits that is not always happening.
In Viburnum, a former city clerk stole more than $100,000. Much of this theft was committed when residents came in to pay their water and sewer bills. I think about the senior citizens in that community living on a fixed income, struggling to come up with the money to keep their utilities on.
In Callaway County, more than $300,000 was stolen by the former collector. When citizens paid their taxes in cash, she would simply pocket the money for herself. Meanwhile, I know there are families making tough decisions on how to pay their rent or mortgage, or afford childcare.
In Putnam County, an out-of-state management company ran a $90 million billing scheme through the county-owned hospital. Federal investigations were launched after the practice was exposed. Throughout the country, small, rural hospitals have been targeted and put at risk. At the same time, citizens face higher healthcare costs and fewer options for emergency medical care.
Right here, in the halls of state government it has happened time and again - notably, with the Department of Revenue. Tax refunds to citizens were increasingly late and taxpayers were not getting the interest owed on those late refunds. We heard from thousands of Missourians who were frustrated and could not get answers.
Our audit got the answers taxpayers deserved. It found that the state paid next to nothing in interest on late tax refunds. At the same time, taxpayers who filed late paid a significantly higher interest rate. Our subpoenas, our exposure of this abuse, led to bipartisan legislation that levels the playing field between the taxpayer and the government.
Now, again, comes the news of unjust action by the Department of Revenue. The state incorrectly calculated how much tax to withhold from paychecks, meaning Missourians will get an unwelcome surprise. Fewer people will get refunds and instead will get a tax bill from the government. In all, citizens will be footing a $134 million tax bill this year that they were not expecting.
This is real money to real people. Some officials in Jefferson City act as if the loss of even $50 or $100 won't matter to people. This is exactly why Missourians feel that the system is rigged against them. And this creates distrust in our public institutions.
But I know that’s a trip to the grocery store, a couple tanks of gas to get to work, or money saved for a special family outing. The administration might be trying to sweep this under the rug, but I will hold them accountable to you. Missourians deserve transparency.
From city hall to the county courthouse to the Capitol: fraud and abuse will not be tolerated; the buying and selling of government will not be tolerated; corruption will not be tolerated.
Our job as public officials is to serve the public. I have a message for those officials who don't: If you commit fraud, if you steal from taxpayers, if you are dishonest with the citizens of Missouri, my office will find you, and I will hold you accountable.
I'm so proud to renew my oath of office today and to expand on the great work we have accomplished. We are reaffirming our fight against public corruption.
As such, today I am announcing the creation of the Public Corruption and Fraud Division within the State Auditor's Office. This division will have dedicated auditors and attorneys, law enforcement professionals, forensic auditing specialists and certified fraud examiners. We will use technology and data analytics to target and uncover theft and fraud. My team will have the tools, resources and expertise to expose wrongdoing.
As a Certified Fraud Examiner myself, I am committed to creating the strongest and most robust public corruption force the state has ever seen.
Our partnerships with law enforcement have shown proven results time and again. But red tape created by Missouri laws prevents my office from working with law enforcement even when it's known fraud is occurring.
My office has the forensic auditing expertise that law enforcement needs to seek justice for taxpayers. I call on the legislature to pass our public corruption bill. This legislation is supported by county prosecutors across the state.
I'm so proud to serve Missourians as their independent watchdog. To expose unfairness, greed, and corruption affecting their communities and their families.
The people of Missouri should know there is someone looking out for them - and I'm just getting started.
Thank you, and God bless the great State of Missouri.