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Government and Politics
Dispatches from public radio's correspondent at the Washington Legislature. Austin Jenkins is the Olympia correspondent for the Northwest News Network. You can also see Austin on television as host of TVW's (the C–SPAN of Washington State) weekly public affairs program "Inside Olympia."

Are Troy Kelley's Legal Troubles Costing Washington State Auditor's Office?

Austin Jenkins
Northwest News Network
Washington state Auditor Troy Kelley is charged with possession of stolen funds, money laundering and tax evasion related to his prior real estate services business.

More than a decade ago, Washington voters approved a ballot measure requiring performance audits of state and local government programs. But now Washington’s deputy state auditor says funding for those performance audits is imperiled. And she’s concerned it’s because of elected auditor Troy Kelley’s legal troubles.

Kelley is charged with possession of stolen funds, money laundering and filing false tax returns related to his prior real estate services business. He’s pleaded not guilty and faces a federal trial next month. Following Kelley’s indictment last year, lawmakers swept more than $12 million out of the Auditor’s performance audit account.

Now, the governor and House Democrats propose to take another $10 million. Deputy Auditor Jan Jutte said that would amount to a 74 percent cut to the performance audit budget.

“It just seems like the legislature sees an opportunity to get some funds from us at a time that they view us as weak,” Jutte said.

In a letter to House leadership, Jutte said a cut that deep “would mean stopping government accountability work now under way.”

“I am concerned that the institution of the State Auditor’s Office is the victim of both the complex pressures on the state budget and the legal issues facing Auditor Kelley,” Jutte wrote.

House budget chair Hans Dunshee said the money is needed for other more pressing needs like mental health and taking it is not related to Kelley’s legal woes.

Separately, Washington House leaders say they will not move to impeach Kelley during the current 60-day session. In a February 19 letter to Lt. Governor Brad Owen, Speaker of the House Frank Chopp and House Republican leader Dan Kristiansen said they believe Kelley’s case “would warrant impeachment proceedings,” but don’t want to interfere with his upcoming federal trial.

“Because we wish to avoid any excuse for delaying this trial, we are placing on hold for the time being any impeachment proceedings,” the leaders wrote. Impeachment proceedings in Washington are initiated by the House, but the state Senate conducts the trial. Washington’s constitution requires a two-thirds vote to impeach.

The letter concluded with a reiteration of their previous call for Kelley to resign his position, a request he has ignored.

In December, facing threats of impeachment, Kelley unexpectedly returned to work from a self-imposed leave of absence.