Neb. lawmakers want to give voters chance to ax treasurer’s office, say it could save money

By Nate Jenkins, AP
Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Neb. voters may get chance to cut treasurer’s job

LINCOLN, Neb. — Nebraska lawmakers want to put the state treasurer’s office on the chopping block.

On Tuesday, they easily gave first-round approval to a measure that would go before voters in the November general election. If approved then, the office now held by Shane Osborn and that has been a stepping stone to higher office would be eliminated in 2015.

“From what I’ve heard, people are fed up with us not streamlining government,” said Sen. Galen Hadley of Kearney. “Give it to the people to tell us yes or no.”

It’s unclear how much money, if any, would be saved by getting rid of the office that has existed for about 155 years. At the least, the salary and benefits of the officeholder — about $117,000 — would be taken off the state’s financial books, said Sen. Dennis Utter of Hastings, who introduced the measure.

But Utter is confident that the state would save significantly more because existing state agencies could assume some of the duties without making many changes. In addition, he argued, the office isn’t needed because it doesn’t have any policymaking power.

During the debate on Tuesday, state Sen. Tom Carlson of Holdrege said Utter must be assuming that the current state treasurer “isn’t doing anything.” ”You don’t want to go there,” he said to Utter.

Said Utter: “I’m not going there … but I’m not arguing that.”

Osborn vehemently disagrees even though he isn’t seeking re-election. One of the primary jobs of the office is returning to people unclaimed property such as uncashed payroll checks and gift cards. The office has returned about $43.5 million since Osborn took office in 2007.

The office also acts as the state’s banker, receiving and disbursing state revenue, and does the same with child-support payments.

“It’s important for people to have a person who they elected directly overseeing their finances,” Osborn said. “Yes, a bureaucrat could perform” some of the duties, “but I think having someone directly accountable … makes the people involved with their government.”

“The agencies don’t respond as well to … bureaucrats, as they do a constitutional officer,” he added later.

Currently, treasurers are elected in 37 states and Utter said seven states don’t have a treasurer. In some other states, legislatures select treasurers, and in some they are appointed by governors.

The treasurer’s office currently has about 50 employees and a budget of $26.5 million. Utter said about $5.5 million of that goes to administration, and he believes some of that cost could be eliminated by axing the office.

Some lawmakers have their doubts that there will be savings, saying that that cutting the office could actually enlarge state government.

“I think they’re going to expand other areas of government to handle the duties,” said Sen. Charlie Janssen of Fremont.

The proposed constitutional amendment must still pass two more rounds of debate before going before voters.


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