By RONNIE ELLIS
The Republican-controlled state Senate narrowly passed a bill to offer voters a constitutional amendment to abolish the office of state treasurer.
Senate Bill 58, sponsored by Sen. Chris McDaniel, R-Latonia, got precisely the 23 votes it needed as a constitutional amendment, but it didn’t get the last two until two Republican senators who had earlier passed ultimately voted for the bill.
All Democrats in the chamber opposed the bill and one Republican, Brandon Smith of Hazard, a member of the Republican leadership, also voted no. The chamber’s only independent, Bob Leeper of Paducah, voted for the measure.
But Republicans Tom Buford of Nicholasville and Jared Carpenter of Berea passed when their names were called. When all other votes were recorded, the measure had only 21 votes and would have failed. But Buford and Carpenter then rose and voted “aye” to ensure its passage.
McDaniel told his colleagues the office of treasurer long ago became obsolete, performing only a handful of functions that aren’t duplicated by the governor’s Finance and Administration Cabinet. His measure would transfer the treasurer’s duties to that cabinet and to the state auditor’s office.
Primarily, the move would save the state money, McDaniel said.
The current treasurer, Democrat Todd Hollenbach, is serving his second term and can’t succeed himself. But that didn’t stop him from criticizing the vote as “a cynical expression of willful ignorance” and “bipartisan hypocrisy.”
He said it won’t save taxpayers money because personnel and duties will have to be replicated in the administrative branch, and he claimed Republicans simply want to deprive voters of the right to select the treasurer.
Democratic Senators R.J. Palmer of Winchester and Jerry Rhoads of Madisonville said the office provides an important check on the executive branch. Rhoads reminded colleagues of a budget impasse several years ago when lawmakers couldn’t agree on a budget. It was up to the treasurer to determine what bills could and should not be paid.
Sen. Julian Carroll, D-Frankfort, a former governor, also reminded senators of the time when state Treasurer Thelma Stovall (who later served as Carroll’s lieutenant governor) refused to pay for a carpet installed in then Gov. Bert Combs’ office.
He called the office “the last check” on the spending authority of the governor and executive branch.
Rising to explain his no vote, Sen. Walter Blevins, D-Morehead, reeled off the number of states which have treasurers and other constitutional offices, noting more maintained the office of treasurer than agriculture commissioner.
“Only 15 states have agriculture commissioners,” Blevins said. Kentucky’s Commissioner of Agriculture James Comer is a Republican interested in running for governor. Blevins suggested if Republicans wanted to save money, they should look at eliminating that office as well.
“This seems political to me,” he said, casting his no vote.
Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, noted that Gov. Steve Beshear on Tuesday proposed changes to the tax code which would increase state revenues, yet Democrats don’t want to look for efficiencies in the existing budget.
But in the end, at least after Carpenter and Buford cast their votes, the measure passed with only one senator — Smith — voting with the other party.
The measure now goes to the Democratic House.
Ronnie Ellis writes for CNHI News Service and is based in Frankfort. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow CNHI News Service stories on Twitter at www.twitter.com/cnhifrankfort