In November, two Republicans crashed the four-year-long all-Democrat party in Illinois' top offices. And they did it with a commitment to ensuring one of those offices won't be around next election. Now, it's time for them to make good on the promise.
Knowing it could cost the job of one of them, Judy Baar Topinka, sworn in this week as comptroller, and Dan Rutherford, the new treasurer, have pledged to combine their two constitutional offices to save an estimated $10 million to $12 million a year. This is an opportunity for streamlining that's too good to pass up.
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The comptroller is responsible for writing the state's checks and the treasurer for investing state dollars. Creating one office to handle money functions would reduce administrative costs by eliminating redundancies. Topinka and Rutherford are the right leaders to start the process. Both are veteran lawmakers, and Topinka held the treasurer post for 12 years. Though the offices carry no legislative authority, their new occupants have vowed to be voices of fiscal prudence needed to solve the state's financial problems.
Indeed, in her inaugural speech, Topinka said both parties deserve blame, and she called on leaders to "put aside any petty bickering, and certainly any partisan fights . . . and turn this state around." Rutherford "intends to use this statewide stage" and is "not going to be shy about articulating what I believe is necessary to help the economic standing" of Illinois.
Both know the comptroller and treasurer have a role in ensuring fiscal solvency. Topinka can refuse to authorize checks that reflect frivolous spending. She plans to use the office as a bully pulpit, as did previous Comptroller Dan Hynes, who issued stark warnings against the lack of restraint. For his part, Rutherford has said he would cut duplicate programs within his office that could be handled elsewhere. That assessment should include a close examination of the two administrative offices.
State leaders are looking deep for cuts in expenses, and this one is staring them in the face. Many may wonder why Illinois even has two financial offices, and for more than a decade, proposals to combine them repeatedly have come up in the General Assembly only to be stalled. Until 1970, Illinois did have a single financial officer, but the duties were split after an embezzlement scandal sent Auditor Orville Hodge to prison. If the offices were to be reunited, oversights must be in place to ensure against corruption.
Topinka and Rutherford should act immediately to ensure this constitutional change happens. If an amendment proposal is introduced this year and the House and Senate approve it, the measure could be on the 2012 ballot. In these times, consolidation of government with an eye on ethics is a move in the right direction.