The auditor general's office is back. All that's necessary to restore the watchdog agency is Gov. Pete Wilson's signature on a bill that was just passed by the Legislature.

The office, established in 1955, was dismantled last November after voters rejected Proposition 159, a measure to exempt the agency from spending limits imposed on the Legislature in 1990.

The politically independent auditor general's office, which operated under the roof of the Legislature, provided vital state functions not duplicated elsewhere. The agency was credited with saving taxpayers $500 million in the last decade alone--by ferreting out government waste, monitoring expenditures and assessing the performance of bureaucrats.

Under the $5-million restoration bill, carried by Senate Republican leader Ken Maddy of Fresno and Assembly Speaker Willie Brown (D-San Francisco), the agency, which would retain virtually all of its functions but would be known as the "state auditor," would be housed in the independent Little Hoover Commission, a venerable research group whose members are appointed by the governor and Legislature.

The bipartisan effort to resuscitate the office reflected common sense. The agency has saved California money. The savings are increased by the ability to use a staff of full-time state auditors instead of contracting the work out.

The governor is expected to sign the measure, and none too soon. In these tight-budget times, bird-dogging state spending and waste is more important than ever.

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