NEW HAVEN — After 32 years as a Vermont state senator, Vince Illuzzi knows the inner workings of state government like the back of his hand. It’s experience that the Derby Republican wants to put to work for Vermonters as state auditor.
Illuzzi, 58, will face Burlington Democrat Doug Hoffer for the state auditor’s post, being vacated this year by incumbent Republican Tom Salmon.
Illuzzi believes his state Senate experience has groomed him well to take over as auditor, a position charged with making sure the state’s finances and programs are being run efficiently and in an above-board manner. The auditor’s specific duties include conducting annual audits of the state’s financial statements, spearheading performance reviews of programs and institutions receiving state/taxpayer funds, and tracking the manner in which federal funds are being used by state government.
“It’s a position that drives government improvement,” Illuzzi, a current member of the senate Appropriations Committee, said of the auditor’s position during the recent kickoff of his campaign. “If you improve the performace of government, you will improve the lives of real people. As a senator, I have experience in launching programs and overseeing the assets and budgets of state government. Now, I want to put that experience to work in an office that evaluates the effectiveness and performance of of the investments made every year on behalf of the taxpayers.”
And Illuzzi points out that he has presided over legislative committees that have made a lot of investments of tax dollars in bricks, mortar and conservation. His resumé includes lengthy stints as chairman of both the Senate Institutions Committee and the Senate Economic Development, Housing and General Affairs Committee. These panels, among other things, help advance various capital projects for state funding. And Illuzzi was not shy, while campaigning here at Addison County Fair and Field Days last week, in enumerating some of the local projects he helped advance. They include the Frank Mahady Courthouse in Middlebury, the new Vermont State Police barracks in New Haven, as well as improvements to Beeman Elementary School and the Town Hall Theater.
He said he also supported the creation, in 1987, of Vermont’s Housing and Conservation Trust Fund. That fund, through the years, has helped conserve more than 113,000 acres of farm land and helped create or protect 8,200 units of affordable housing.
Illuzzi added he had also been a big supporter of legislative efforts to help the homeless, boost dowtowns and discourage sprawl. He is proud to have gained a reputation as one of the Legislature’s top deal-makers, working across party lines with majority Democrats to win support for bills.
“Many of my (campaign) supporters are Democrats,” he said citing Sens. Richard Mazza, Hinda Miller and Ginny Lyons, among others.
“It pays to work with everyone, regardles of what political banner they wave,” he said.
“There is a difference between Vermont Republicans and those in Washington, D.C. We (in Vermont) work toward common solutions and solving problems. In Washington, they vote ideology and never speak with each other.”
So with 32 years of experience setting state policy and expenditures, Illuzzi wants a chance to closely track those actions as state auditor.
“After 32 years, I think I am uniquely qualified to look at these issues from a different perspective, to see how we are performing,” he said.
As part of the Economic Development, Housing and General Affairs Committee, Illuzzi and his colleagues followed around 50 state government training programs performing such functions as workforce development. As auditor, Illuzzi wants to make sure these and other programs are “earning their keep” and not duplicating services.
Illuzzi also believes the auditor should look into the efficiency of the sales tax and study the pros and cons of the estate tax and the so-called “cloud tax” — assessed on business conducted on remotely accessed software.
“The Legislature needs to be apprised of the consequences of some of these decisions,” Illuzzi said.
He also last week outlined a three-point plan that state agencies can use to prevent payroll and related employee benefit and expense fraud. This has come to the fore in wake of allegations that former Vermont State Police Trooper James Deeghan padded his timesheets to the tune of tens of thousands of dollars.
Illuzzi’s plan calls for develop a “strong system of checks and balances” to ensure that no employee has complete control over preparing, submitting and approving his or her own timesheet or expense report; requiring prior written authorization for all non-emergency overtime hours that is granted only for specific, verifiable purposes, consistent with departmental mission; and ensuring that agency assets such as vehicles, cell phones, equipment and other agency resources are used only for official business.
“Throughout my 32 years of service in state government, I find almost every state employee is honest, diligent and hard-working,” said Illuzzi, a lawyer and Essex County state’s attorney. “But we all do a better job when there is proper oversight. The greatest deterrent to fraud is creating the perception that people will have their work reviewed, and that is the climate I will foster regarding state finances as state auditor.”
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected]