CARSON CITY, Nev. (AP) — A Democratic lawmaker said Tuesday that the offices of Nevada’s two statewide-elected officials who oversee the state’s finances are so lacking in purpose that they should be abolished.
Assemblyman Elliot Anderson of Las Vegas argued at a legislative hearing that the “ministerial” state treasurer and controller have no discretionary authority or legitimate reason for holding elected office given modern accounting resources. He asked his colleagues to “think creatively” when considering his proposal to ask Nevada voters to absorb their duties into the governor’s office.
State Controller Ron Knecht and State Treasurer Dan Schwartz fired back with their numerous discretionary responsibilities: to support public credit, promote frugality, ensure a well-managed financial system and encourage participation in various state programs.
“What you don’t want are three ‘yes’ men — ‘yes’ women parroting the governor’s viewpoint, no matter how sound it is,” Knecht said. “You want some diversity of opinion on substantial issues, and right now, as everybody knows, we’ve got that.”
Moreover, they argued the officials managing taxpayer dollars should answer to the people of Nevada, not the governor, and their offices must remain autonomous to thwart fraud.
“We never have one person who can both authorize the payment and write the check themselves,” Assistant Controller Geoff Lawrence said. “The segregation of accounting duties between the two offices is one of the few safeguards the state has from fraud and error.”
Anderson said the state would benefit from consolidating the offices and having governors choose accountants instead of voters electing politicians to oversee state coffers.
“We’ve been told we have this grand history of 153 years of the constitution somehow wondrously stopping bad things from happening with the state’s finances,” Anderson said. “In fact, modern accounting principles and accounting procedures that have been developed are the safeguards that keep us safe.”
Across the country, 37 state treasurers are elected by voters.
Voters decide far fewer controllers, but Lawrence said those states typically elect an independent auditor.
Anderson’s proposal, Assembly Joint Resolution 6, would need to pass the Legislature twice and get voter approval to take effect — a five-year process.
Anderson said proposals similar to his have been made six times previously in Nevada’s history. They all failed.
Billions of dollars pass through the offices of the state treasurer and controller every year. Breaking apart and passing on their responsibilities as Anderson seeks to do would be a massive undertaking that’s not outlined in his bill. It would let future Nevada lawmakers decide exactly how to dole out the treasurer’s and controller’s responsibilities and the qualifications for potential gubernatorial appointees to fill their shoes.
Even the highest qualifications can’t counteract overly concentrated power, Schwartz said.
“The point is,” Schwartz said, “you not only want someone who has those abilities, but has the independence to act on those abilities.”