Well played, Senator Mathern.
Mathern said Tuesday he believes the duties of the treasurer’s office can easily be split up between the Office of Management and Budget, Bank of North Dakota and state tax commissioner’s office.
“This is nothing against Kelly Schmidt,” he said. “This is an issue of right-sizing government, of saving dollars so we can fund some other priorities.”
With eight full-time positions, the treasurer’s office is the smallest state agency led by an elected official.
The office’s approved budget for the 2015-17 biennium was $260 million, but only $1.8 million of that is for salaries and operating expenses. The rest is pass-through dollars for coal severance payments, township allocations and property tax relief, said Sheila Peterson, OMB’s director of fiscal management. Those figures don’t reflect 4.05 percent budget cuts made to most state agencies in February to help offset a projected $1.07 billion revenue shortfall.
So now incumbent Kelly Schmidt, who is running for a fourth term in office, must justify to voters the existence of an office she’s held for a dozen years. And she has to do so amidst a big revenue short fall and a budget crunch.
Mathern is easily one of the most left-wing members of the state Senate – at least on fiscal issues, he’s fairly conservative on social issues – so I didn’t expect him to try and go to Schmidt’s right on a fiscal issue.
Yet there he is, and it’s a brilliant move.
Of course, I’m not so sure we shouldn’t be going the other way and move the OMB and its duties and functions to the Treasurer’s office. We’d probably save about the same amount of money on duplicated efforts, if not more, and after years of inaccurate fiscal forecasts it would be nice to see an elected official directly accountable for fiscal management.
UPDATE: I just spoke to Schmidt.
“I find it interesting that Senator Mathern has never submitted legislation to eliminate the office of State Treasurer during his legislative tenure prior to running for the position,” she told me.
She pointed out that this isn’t the first time there’s been a push to eliminate the office.
“It’s been on the ballot twice before my tenure to eliminate the office of state treasurer when a Democrat was in office, she told me, “and the Democrats fought it.”
She also defended her fiscal record as Treasurer. “Our operating budget has increased 1 percent in the last decade,” she said.
“This is the will of the people. This isn’t something a legislator can do. It would take a vote of the people,” she added. That’s true. Amending the state constitution to eliminate a statewide office would require a vote of the people, as all amendments to the North Dakota constitution do.
“The people have said no twice before. I have worked my entire career trying to give them something to be proud of,” Schmidt told me.