Nebraska voters going to the polls this coming November for the general election will weigh in on a number of candidates and issues. Two questions will be related to each other and put those of you that take the time to vote, into an unusual situation.
In one box you will be asked to vote for a state treasurer. Nothing much unusual here. There are candidates that have filed for this office and will be on the ballot. That is our democracy at work and your constitutional right to choose. The unusual part comes later on the ballot when you will be asked if you want to abolish the office of state treasurer, thereby eliminating the job for the candidate you just voted for.
Let me explain.
LR 284CA was recently passed by the Legislature and provides for the elimination of the office of state treasurer as of January 8, 2015. The "CA" I referred to above denotes this is a constitutional amendment. The office of treasurer is an office provided for in the Constitution of the State of Nebraska. In order to amend this, or any part of our Constitution, the Legislature, by a two-thirds majority, must pass the resolution much like a bill. After passage by us, the people of the State of Nebraska are given the question as to how they want the supreme legal document in this state to change, if at all.
The testimony during the public hearing on this measure and the resulting floor debate centered on a couple of basic issues - efficiencies and cost savings. You can pick up any paper locally or one that reports on a more national level, and see that all forms of local, state and national government are facing budget shortfalls of varying degrees. In Nebraska, we seem to have done a pretty good job up to this point managing our finances but we haven't remained untouched. Recently we just passed a couple of bills that will "adjust" our two-year budget. These adjustments include a 2 percent cut for most state agencies and a $3 million transfer from the cash reserve fund, needed to help cover a projected $45 million shortfall. It has been estimated that eliminating the treasurer's office will save anywhere from $200,000 to $400,000 annually. Some projections are even more given that the operating budget for the office this year stands at approximately $5.5 million.
The treasurer's office obviously serves as the keeper of the state's "checkbook" by receiving and paying out most of the money and claims coming into state government. The office also handles child support collection and payment, unclaimed property and the college savings program of which many of you are aware. This resolution was not introduced because of any wrong-doing by the office. They do a fine job for the task they are assigned. Again, the issues are savings and efficiency. We can transfer most of the jobs to other agencies such as the Department of Revenue and the Department of Administrative Services. The successful candidate this coming November will serve for a full term of four years and also will know that aside from keeping this office operational, will be charged with the assimilation of the office into the various other departments within the state if the resolution is approved. Opponents argue there would be the potential for less transparency and openness in the handling of state funds and accountability might suffer.
Many other states don't have a separate office of the treasurer. In other states, the Legislature elects the treasurer. Our Unicameral form of state government I feel, is a great example of efficiency when compared to all other states with two-house forms of government. In today's world we must continue to meet the needs of our citizens but streamlining the process and shrinking government where possible, must be considered.
Sen. Chris Langemeier represents Nebraska's 23rd District. He can be reached at (402) 471-2719, Capitol Room 1210, Lincoln, NE 68509 or email@example.com.