Thursday, March 31, 2011

Senate approves merger of comptroller and treasurer

By Jamey Dunn

Voters may have the choice to eliminate a constitutional office on the 2012 general election ballot.

The Illinois Senate approved a measure today to amend the Illinois Constitution. The plan would merge the offices of comptroller and treasurer. The legislation has the support of both Treasurer Judy Baar Topinka and Comptroller Dan Rutherford.

The majority of states do not have two separate offices to handle their finances, and in the past, neither has Illinois. Framers of the 1970 Constitution created two positions to add extra oversight after Orville Hodge, the state’s chief financial officer in the 1950s bilked the state out of about $2.5 million in the 1950s. After such blatant corruption, the drafters decided to split up the functions of the office, known as the auditor of public accounts, charging the treasurer with making the state’s investments and the comptroller with paying its bills. (For more on the merger, as well as another story of financial corruption in Illinois history, see Illinois Issues blog February 14, 2011.)

Rutherford said that another move the drafters made—the creation of the office of auditor general—has led to the two fiscal offices being obsolete. He says the oversight provided by the auditor’s office, currently held by William Holland, safeguards taxpayers against graft. He added that advancements in technology over the last six decades also make dollars much easier to track and account for. “Back in the days of Orville Hodge, they were still using typewriters, pieces of paper and pencils,” he said.

According to Rutherford, the move would save the state about $12 million. “If government can be more efficient by having less officers and less departments and so forth, then government should do that.”

The proposal still needs the approval of three-fifths of House members. Then the question of whether to merge the two positions into a single one called the comptroller of the treasury would appear before voters on the 2012 general election ballot. If voters chose to merge the offices, then they would have the opportunity to elect Illinois’ first comptroller of the treasury in 2014.

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