EDITOR’S NOTE: This article is about an amendment on the November 2010 ballot, not about 2012. For information about amendments on the November 2012 ballot, click HERE.
By Shelli Dawdy
There are two proposed amendments to the State Constitution on the ballot next Tuesday. To read about Amendment 1, click HERE.
Amendment 2 is a proposal put forward by Nebraska’s legislature to eliminate the State Treasurer’s office.
We are intuitively opposed to the elimination of a core constitutional office. Someone needs to be the keeper of the State’s “checkbook”. Certain financial responsibilities should be conducted by an elected official accountable to the people of Nebraska, not bureaucrats.
There are many other practical and substantive reasons as well. Most of those are very well articulated by the current State Treasurer, Shane Osborn in an October 22 statement he released.
In addition to the reasons articulated by Treasurer Osborn, GiN members and regular readers of this site should know the Treasurer’s office should actually be strengthened in a number of ways associated with reducing the encroachments by federal government on Nebraska’s sovereignty. As we have been reporting for several months, Nebraska receives almost 40% of its annual budget funds from the federal government. A lot of funds taken in through state agency grants indicate the right hand doesn’t know what the left hand is doing. Further, county and local governments are increasingly accepting federal dollars and it doesn’t appear anyone is “minding the store” on this issue. Not only is all of this federal money adding to the federal deficit, it comes with strings and encroaches on the states’ sovereignty. Counties and cities are incorporated by the state. Properly strengthened, the Treasurer’s office could become a stronger “gatekeeper”.
We concur with three former Nebraska governors and the current governor regarding how savings could be found by eliminating bureaucrats currently performing fiscal duties and giving those responsibilities to the State Treasurer’s office.
Shane Osborn’s opinion that the State Treasurer’s office should be kept is worth considering. All of the available information indicates he has done a very good job of keeping his department’s costs in check, to return orphaned funds to taxpayers, and to make Nebraska government spending and budget matters more transparent.[1. During his term, Treasurer Osborn launched a website, nebraskaspending.gov, to make information about Nebraska’s budgetary and spending issues more transparent to Nebraskans. He accomplished this and came in under his projected budget.] Further, he has no particular interest in the matter as he is not running for re-election.
Treasurer Osborn’s statement on Amendment 2 can be read by clicking HERE or by anywhere on the image embedded below.
Proponents of Amendment 2 are misleading Nebraskans on a number of issues. In both a Letter to the Editor and a Lincoln Journal Star article on October 20, the Senator who introduced the amendment resolution in the Unicameral continued to perpetuate the notion that the elimination of the office will save money and “streamline government”, that the State Auditor’s office conducts similar oversight currently, and that many states do not have a treasurer.
The reasons listed for the elimination do not hold up well to scrutiny. As Treasurer Osborn pointed out, the costs savings are highly questionable, the oversight provided by the State Auditor is far less frequent, and states without an elected treasurer still have one, they are just appointed, not elected. I would add – even if the reason given were true, it is not a compelling reason by itself. Most mothers respond to similar reasoning by children by asking, “If your friends all jumped off of a bridge, would you do it too?”
The Capital City’s paper of record is wrong…once again. In a 10/16 editorial, LJS‘ editorial board summarily endorsed both of the amendments on the ballot. In addition to being just plain wrong by essentially swallowing whole what Senator Utter has told them, the LJS board does itself no favors by sniping at people who believe in limited government, “Many Nebraskans fancy themselves as conservatives in favor of downsizing and streamlining government.” Many newspapers fancy themselves as actually reporting news and respecting their readers.
Why did Nebraska’s legislators vote so overwhelmingly to eliminate the Treasurer?
I believe it is worth asking this question and to examine who introduced, sponsored, and voted for and against the resolution. The sponsor and supporters tell us something about the agenda behind the legislation. A change to the State Constitution is an important issue – it seems worthy of review prior to voting on Tuesday if one’s Senator is up for re-election. My Senator, Amanda McGill, for example, voted to eliminate the Treasurer. If I didn’t have a long list of other reasons to vote against her, this vote would give me pause.
LR284ca, the legislative resolution that resulted in the proposed amendment[2. Nebraska’s constitution requires that any constitutional amendments proposed by the State Legislature be placed on the general ballot and voted on by Nebraskans prior to its passage.] was entered by Senator David Utter, and co-sponsored by Senators Campbell, Fischer, Hadley, Mello, and Nordquist.
LR284ca passed in the Unicameral on March 26, 2010 with 38 yeas, 8 nays, and 3 not voting. The 8 voting against were Senators Coash, Hansen, Janssen, Lautenbaugh, Louden, Nelson, Schilz, and Stuthman (For a list of Senators voting “Yea” see the bottom of this article). Voting present, not voting were Senators Fulton, Price, and Sullivan. Note: Sen. Fulton did not vote because he believed he had a conflict of interest; he was running for the office in question at the time of the vote. Neither Sen. Price nor Sullivan filed a conflict of interest on this issue.
The elimination of the office has dubious prospects, at best, for saving the state money, means less oversight, further empowers bureaucrats, and eliminates some checks and balances on government. Either the idea of less oversight is attractive to too many of our Senators, or they did not trouble themselves to study up enough on the issue.
WHO VOTED “YEA” ON LR284CA – To eliminate the State Treasurer?
Adams, Ashford, Avery, Campbell, Carlson, Christensen, Conrad, Cook, Cornett, Council, Dierks, Dubas, Fischer, Flood, Gay, Giese, Gloor, Haar, Hadley, Harms, Heideman, Howard, Karpisek, Krist, Langemeier, Lathrop, McCoy, McGill, Mello, Nordquist, Pahls, Pankonin, Pirsch, Rogert, Utter, Wallman, White, Wightman
If you recognize your Senator’s name and want their contact information, click HERE.
If you do not know who your State Senator is, click HERE for assistance in locating that information.
Footnotes and additional information: