Nebraska voters will have chance to ax 155-year-old state treasurer’s office in November

By Nate Jenkins, AP
Friday, March 26, 2010

Neb. voters have chance to ax treasurer’s office

LINCOLN, Neb. — Nebraska lawmakers put the state treasurer’s office on the chopping block Friday, giving voters the chance to eliminate the 155-year-old office in November.

Current State Treasurer Shane Osborn, who is not running for re-election, has called it a bad idea that could cost the state more money in the long run and dissolve an important link between citizens and the office that oversees the state’s financial books. A strong majority of lawmakers disagree, however, saying constituents are clamoring for smaller government and axing the office is a good start.

“Today is a good day for people who want smaller, smarter state government,” said Sen. Heath Mello of Omaha. “We will save money getting rid of top-level, high-paid managers in the office.”

Just eight of the Legislature’s 49 senators voted against putting the office-abolition measure on the ballot. One of them, longtime Sen. Arnie Stuthman of Platte Center, said the vote could partly be due to term limits that have ushered in a new crop of senators trying to quickly fulfill promises of government-cutting.

Proposals to eliminate the office surfaced in the 1990s, but never even advanced from legislative committees to be debated by the full Legislature.

“A lot of senators feel like we have to cut something, so just get rid of it,” Stuthman said. He predicted voters will do so, but that the move won’t save any money.

“We’re going to force unemployment in one agency, which will require employment in another, so where’s the savings?” he said.

The senator who introduced the proposal has said he doesn’t know exactly how much money abolishing the office might save.

At the least, the salary and benefits of the officeholder — about $117,000 — would be taken off the state’s financial books, according to Sen. Dennis Utter of Hastings. And Utter says an unknown amount of savings will likely be realized because state agencies are already equipped to handle many of the duties of the office.

“Frankly, agencies in other areas have experience,” with some of the treasurer’s duties, Utter said after the measure was passed. “The Department of Revenue takes in state funds, and the Department of Administrative Services disburses them.”

Besides acting as the state’s banker, receiving and disbursing state revenue, the office does the same with child-support payments. It is widely credited with improving the system.

Another primary job of the office is returning unclaimed property to people, such as uncashed payroll checks and gift cards. The office has returned about $43.5 million since Osborn took office in 2007, a record amount.

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 saved by eliminating the office.

Should voters approve the proposed constitutional amendment, the treasurer’s office wouldn’t be gone until 2015. Between the vote and that date, it would be up to the state treasurer to plan how to transfer the office’s duties to other areas of government.

Thirty-seven states have elected state treasurers. The last state to eliminate the office was Minnesota, where residents voted in 1998 to nix the office, and it was shuttered five years later.


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