Friday, January 9, 2015

General Assembly would have been better off doing nothin’ for Comptroller

I prefer when the law gets written in a neutral way, and the political partisanship factors could go either way – they’re unpredictable.

Which is why I wasn’t enthused with the General Assembly’s actions on Thursday by which Illinois will have a special election to pick a new state comptroller come 2016, even though the current term of office is to run through January 2019.

FOR THE RECORD, both the state Senate and Illinois House of Representatives voted Thursday in a special session (whose legitimacy is questioned by those who believed the current Legislature adjourned for good back in November) to pass a bill that creates a special election to fill constitutional offices if more than two years of a four-year term remain.

Gov. Pat Quinn still has to sign the measure into law. But he said Thursday he’d go along with it. This bill likely will be his last act as governor before Bruce Rauner assumes the position come Monday at noon.

All of this came about because of the death nearly one month ago of Judy Baar Topinka – who was elected back in November to another term as Illinois comptroller. That term would have begun Monday and would run through January 2019.

Without this change in law, there were no provisions for special elections. So Topinka would have been replaced by a gubernatorial appointment. Someone literally would get a full four-year appointment without being elected first.

SOME PEOPLE ARE claiming to have serious objections to such a concept. I don’t so much, largely because I accept the fact that we give governors significant authority to make appointments and fill vacancies.

People who have a problem with Republican Rauner having that kind of power (and I’ll be the first to admit I’m not enthused about the idea) perhaps should have thought more thoroughly about who they voted for last year.

I accept that the power to pick a replacement for Topinka will fall to Rauner, just as it would have fallen to Quinn had he been able to win re-election.

Somehow, the Legislature’s actions on Thursday do come across as changes in law motivated purely by political partisanship – particularly since the circumstances the state faces in replacing Topinka are ever so unique.

WE MADE LONG-RANGE changes in state law to fit these particular circumstances. That just seems wrong! And short-sighted.

Unless people think a future Legislature will make further changes to fit whatever future circumstances might happen to occur. If that is true, that is just scary!

Although to hear Republican partisans rant and rage about the Democratic-controlled Legislature’s actions on Thursday came across as ever so self-righteous because they were pushing for a concept that I find equally appalling – the idea of merging the treasurer and comptroller’s offices into one post.

The “Comptroller of the Treasury” is one overly-pompous title I have heard used for the merger. Considering that these are offices to which Democratic candidates often get elected, it seems the GOP merely wants to reduce the opposition party.

I STILL BELIEVE the financial safeguards that caused these duties to be split between two separate constitutional offices are necessary. I believe we can’t be too cautious.

I also wonder if political officials would come to see one combined office as a political plum that would give their party significant benefits – along with leaving the opposition party with nothing at all! Never underestimate the potential for greed amongst government officials.

The idea of merging the two offices was ignored on Thursday, which was good. Although I’ll be the first to admit it was most likely motivated by a desire by Democrats to stick it to Rauner – whose campaign rhetoric of “shaking things up” all too often comes across as wanting to reward his own interests at the expense of others.

There was no “good guy” on Thursday at the Illinois Statehouse, just some evidence that the next four years are going to be a particularly ugly partisan spat in Springfield.


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