Illinois treasurer candidates Mike Frerichs, Tom Demmer spar over role of office
Democratic Illinois Treasurer Michael Frerichs and Republican challenger Tom Demmer have differing views about how to run the statewide office.
During a recent forum with the Daily Herald's editorial board, the two candidates sparred over how they perceive the role of state treasurer ahead of the Nov. 8 election.
"The treasurer should be speaking up and advocating for taxpayers in the big public discussions of the day," Demmer said. "The state treasurer should be someone who is going to be an outspoken advocate for taxpayers and challenge the status quo."
Demmer, a five-term state representative from Dixon, called Frerichs a "rubber stamp" for Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker's administration who has supported various tax hikes over the years.
Frerichs argued that Demmer would be an obstructionist rather than an advocate. He said Demmer acted as former Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner's floor leader on failed budgets that led to a two-year budget impasse during Rauner's single term in office that "devastated social service agencies and decimated our public universities" due to lack of funding.
"For two years he sat there and said nothing about the devastation that was going on. Let it happen," Frerichs said. "I won't sit here and be lectured about policies by someone who tried to destroy social service agencies and pursue an anti-worker agenda."
Frerichs, a Champaign resident who served as state senator in the past and is seeking his third term, touted his record during the eight years he's spent as treasurer, acting as the state's chief investment officer.
He noted that the state has topped $1.2 billion in investment gains during his tenure while reducing investment fees by more than $100 million. He accelerated and increased repayments of lost property to residents by modernizing the state's iCash program, he said.
"We stand up on behalf of citizens every day to get money back into their hands," Frerichs said. "That is the job of the treasurer."
But Demmer argued that Frerichs has supported tax hikes while serving as treasurer, including the ill-fated graduated income tax plan that voters rejected in 2020.
"He's been happy to use the treasurer's office to push for higher taxes but gets offended when I suggest we should use the treasurer's office to push for lower taxes," Demmer said. "What we need to do differently is have a state treasurer who is going to be more actively engaged, speaking out for how short-term fiscal decisions are impacting the long-term health of the state."
Frerichs said Demmer is seeking the wrong office.
"If my opponent was really so concerned about taxes, I would ask why he's not running for reelection," Frerichs said. "The treasurer doesn't set tax rates. It sounds like my opponent is running for reelection to the House, where they actually vote on tax rates."
Both candidates say they support consolidating the treasurer's office with the state comptroller's office, which they estimate could save the state $10 million to $12 million annually by eliminating personnel and redundancies. They argue a single officeholder could handle the role, though the two posts and the state's auditor general position were created after a corruption scandal in the 1950s.
The duties of the state's elected auditor of public accounts were split among the three new offices several years after Orville Hodge was convicted of embezzling more than $6 million.
Legislators have been hesitant to merge the offices ever since, though efforts to consolidate have gained traction in recent years. Frerichs suggested voters should decide the fate of the proposed merger.