Subtract state banker

This fall, Minnesota voters will have the chance to do something they have never done before. For the first time in Minnesota history, voters can abolish one of the state’s constitutional offices. The fate of the office of the state treasurer will be decided on the general election ballot in November. Abolishing the office, which has existed since statehood in 1858, requires an amendment to the state constitution. If a majority of voters approve the amendment, the office will be abolished in 2003. Abolition would help eliminate an unnecessary post, reduce “big government” and save public money.
With overwhelming majorities, the House and Senate voted last session to send this long-debated issue to the voters. Supporters of abolishing the state office argue that the job no longer holds any meaningful responsibilities, because many of its duties have been lost to the state auditor and the finance and commerce departments. Michael McGrath, state treasurer since 1987, is not seeking reelection this year. If the amendment succeeds, the next treasurer will serve one full term and the office’s staff of 12 will then be moved to other departments.
The state treasurer’s position has become so meaningless that one incumbent moved to Florida while still holding office in the 1980s. A government post that requires so little dedication should not be supported by public dollars. Transferring the office’s duties would save less than $1 million a year. While that only amounts to two dimes per Minnesotan, the funds should be used where they would be more productive. Additionally, abolishing the office of the state treasurer would be a good first step toward reducing the size of state government. Voters rarely have the chance to shrink the large number of government departments; when the opportunity arises, the people should seize it.
The amendment’s opponents, predominantly Republicans, argue that the office serves as a check on the financial power of the executive branch. But other state agencies already fulfill that function. The state auditor and the Department of Administration both act as watchdogs over the executive. The amendment’s main weakness is its lack of specifics on where the treasurer’s duties will be dispersed and where the staff will be transferred. If the amendment is approved, state administrators will be left to divide the treasurer’s duties and staff among themselves. Most of the treasurer’s responsibilities will likely fall to either the secretary of state or the Department of Finance. The issue facing voters, however, is not how to divide the duties, but whether to eliminate the office. In this case, the people should make the constitution and leave their representatives free to enforce it.
The opportunity for voters to abolish one of the state’s constitutional offices is unique and is a responsibility that should be taken seriously. Abolishing the office of the state treasurer would not hinder the operation of the state government, but it would save public dollars and help reduce the size of government by doing away with an unnecessary office. It will not change government as we know it, but it will make Minnesota’s government a little more efficient. This November, voters should take advantage of the chance to do away with the state treasurer’s office.