Can You Save $12 Million by Merging the Comptroller and Treasurer? Maybe...

Candidates for Illinois Comptroller and Treasurer offer differing thoughts to BGA’s streamlining question.

Could taxpayers save $12 million per year by merging two statewide offices? The BGA’s Policy Team asked the candidates for comptroller — the official in charge of the state’s checkbook — and treasurer — the official who invests the state’s money — whether they would combine their offices. The six candidates that are asking you to give them access to Illinois’ vault and checkbook had very different answers.

Merge them

Both Republican nominees have been vocal advocates for combining the two offices, making it a key part of their platforms. In response to the BGA’s question, comptroller nominee Darlene Senger calls consolidation a “common-sense idea [that] not only saves taxpayers money, but also encourages greater communication between the two [offices], which will allow greater savings and efficiencies down the line.”

Similarly, treasurer nominee Jim Dodge says that by consolidating “we can streamline the two offices, reduce headcount and improve performance… [and that] it sends the message to voters that state government finally recognizes that it’s too big which means it’s too costly and that it can shrink.” Both candidates believe the merger could save as much as $12 million per year.

The incumbent treasurer, Mike Frerichs, a Democrat, also supports merging the offices and notes that, as a senator, he supported legislation to do so.

It’s complicated

The incumbent, Democratic Comptroller Susana Mendoza, says it’s much more complicated than it’s made out to be. Mendoza said the offices were one until the 1950s but were split into two for a reason. She says, “The framers of the state constitution were familiar with the potential for corruption in having one officer in charge of receiving money, investing it and paying it out. That's because Orville Hodge, the former Auditor of Public Accounts, whose office had the combined duties of treasurer, comptroller and auditor, embezzled over $6 million in state funds in the 1950's — the equivalent to $57 million in today's money.”

Rather than supporting a consolidation of the two offices, Mendoza focuses her answer on actions she has taken to achieve savings, such as cutting her own budget.

The libertarian nominees for comptroller and treasurer - Claire Ball and Michael Leheney - also have concerns about ensuring the system maintains checks and balances. Claire Ball says, “Sound accounting practices stress that in a good accounting system there are three components that should always be segregated to keep the risks of fraud low: authorization, recordkeeping, and custody of assets.”

Ball continues, “From an accounting standpoint, this is an important financial safeguard that should not be eliminated over the perception of cost savings. There is no detail to support the proposed $12 million in savings…”

In fact, in a 2013 memo, officials with the Legislative Research Unit (the Illinois General Assembly’s research agency) state “it is difficult to project savings from eliminating the comptroller’s office or combining it with another office [such as the treasurer’s office], because all existing functions of the office would still need to be performed.”

According to the 2013 memo, the comptroller’s office takes roughly $23 million a year to operate and it takes roughly $8 million a year operate the treasurer’s office; combined that’s roughly $31 million a year. The $12 million in savings mentioned would reflect a 39% cut in total expenditures.

The final word

Merging the comptroller’s and treasurer’s offices is just one of many issues discussed and debated. In addition to consolidation and streamlining, the BGA Policy Team asked the comptroller and treasurer candidates about state pensions, financial transparency, investment strategy and more.

You can read more about how the candidates would approach their roles on ilvotes.org. It’s the place to go to educate yourself about the candidates to make sure your vote is an informed one. Read up before you head to the polls.

About the Author

Danish Murtaza

As policy associate, Danish Murtaza focuses on policy research and writing, as well as monitoring of legislation in the Illinois General Assembly. Danish analyzes and explains contemporary policy issues regarding government accountability and efficiency. He provides analysis and recommendations to the policy team on legislation in the IL General Assembly.