Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Who’s going to out-politick whom on fate of Illinois comptroller post?

Gov.-elect Bruce Rauner let it be known this week whom he plans to pick to replace the late Judy Baar Topinka to serve as Illinois comptroller. But that doesn’t make the future’s post any more secure.

For now that we know Leslie Munger is the new person in charge of making sure government bills get paid in a manner sort of resembling being timely, it seems Rauner is pushing for the post’s abolishment.

ACTUALLY, HE WANTS a merger of sorts between the comptroller and the Illinois treasurer – the office that oversees the state’s financial investments and other income.

It has been a long-running political debate over whether state government finances ought to be overseen by two officials who hold state constitutional officer titles. It seems that Rauner wants to use the Topinka death as momentum to push this issue now, when in the past it has always limped along and withered away.

Now I know there are those who think this appropriate – they say Topinka herself favored merging the two offices, and that this could be her legacy. But I can’t help but be skeptical.

Perhaps it’s because I know my local history and remember the name Orville Hodge (the one-time state financial official who wound up doing prison time for his government antics).

IT WAS WITH that in mind that when the state Constitution was last re-written in 1970, delegates decided to split the duties related to state government’s financial tasks.

In essence, one person is in charge of bringing in as much money as possible for the state to spend, with another person being in charge of signing off on the checks that are issued to pay the state’s bills.

It provides a sense of ‘check and balance’ that I actually find appropriate. I’m not sure what is really gained by wanting to have one person serve as an all-powerful treasurer.

Except that some people see the concept of having that all-powerful person and get greedy at the concept of having that official on their side in partisan political maneuvers. Just like the idea of having a lottery to break the tie on a political redistricting panel was supposed to scare people into being afraid their side would get nothing, but instead their greedy nature makes them enjoy the chance to get all – and totally screw over the opposition!

RAUNER MADE IT clear this week that his appointment of Munger was part of a larger effort to have voters decide in the 2016 elections whether the two posts would be merged into one.

Whether such a plan can gain traction will depend on how it is worded, and which position is perceived as being the one done away with.

Which is why I found it laughable that Illinois Treasurer-elect Michael Frerichs issued his own statement this week saying he favors doing away with the comptroller post in 2016 – as though that is a big conciliatory gesture!

For one thing, his proposal merely protects himself. I don’t think Republican political interests (including Rauner) will meekly go along with that.

PLUS, I THINK it shows Frerichs’ political cluelessness if he really believes that can happen.

For the voters back in November chose Topinka to serve a four-year term running from Monday through mid-January of 2019. Whether there has to be a special election in 2016 to pick someone to finish the last two years, or whether Munger gets to have a whole four-year term without being elected has to be decided.

But we’re going to have the two positions in place at least through then – there’s no getting around that! Whether some time in the 2020s the two posts can be combined is a different issue. But it’s not going to happen anytime before then.

There’s still time between now and then. Let’s hope sense prevails and we don’t get a restructuring of our government just because current officials have dreams of more power for their partisan side!


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