The state treasurer was in town last Thursday to promote a program in his office that returns property being held by the state to its rightful owners.
While here, Dan Rutherford also addressed comments by local residents on how the state’s financial woes are impacting this community.
Talking about his office’s I-Cash program, Rutherford said, “It is not always a happy day for me as state treasurer, especially with the state’s finances the way they are.
“So, one of the happy things I can do is try to get people their money back,” he said.
Rutherford said that when he took over as treasurer in 2011, he decided that his office would “be very aggressive” with I-Cash.
Thus, in his first year in office, more than $100 million held by the state – as a result of such things as settlements and estates – was returned to individuals.
In 2012, when his office became “more aggressive,” $129 million was returned to individuals.
“Now, that’s a lot of money going back into the people’s hands, purses, wallets and pockets.”
In Fayette County alone, Rutherford said, the state is holding a little more than $550,000 that belongs to residents.
Rutherford then turned to talking about the state’s finances, or, more specifically, how he has worked to cut spending in his office.
In his first year, Rutherford said, he cut the treasurer’s budget by 2 percent.
“That doesn’t sound like a lot, but if you’re in government, that’s about a yeoman’s task to think that government would do that,” he said.
Rutherford said he cut expenses by closing some satellite offices, cutting in half the number of cars in the state treasurer’s fleet, getting rid of cell phones and reorganizing staff.
In the new budget, he is proposing another 3-percent cut.
“We’re doing what I think is actually the right thing, moving the state treasurer’s office in the right direction,” Rutherford said.
The latest measures to reduce spending include not buying complimentary calendars, which results in a savings of $300, and buying the office’s commodities in bulk.
A small crowd was on hand for Rutherford’s visit, and he took a little time to answer questions from those present.
Ken Torbeck said, “We are facing a terrible thing with education.”
The state’s financial problems, he told Rutherford, have resulted in cuts by the Vandalia School District. “They will impact the band and affect the quality of education.
“Why are we doing this on the backs of our kids. We need to give them the best education that we can, because they are our future taxpayers,” Torbeck said.
He told Rutherford that he sees significant waste by the state at his business, NAPA, explaining that the comptroller’s office sends him checks individually, instead of making joint payments.
“The money that you guys spend in postage, the waste, would support our school system,” Torbeck said.
Rutherford said that while he couldn’t address the operations of the comptroller’s office, he could explain how he has addressed waste.
He said that in his first visit to his Chicago office, he saw four phones on his desk. He cut out two of those phones, as well as all phones on desks that weren’t being used.
“I got rid of 14 percent of the phones in (the) Chicago (office),” Rutherford said.
“That is not going to save your band, but I feel better going into my office in Chicago knowing there’s not one telephone that we’re not getting $25 a month use of,” he said.
“If that attitude was taken through the rest of government, we still wouldn’t fix the problem, but we could stand before groups like this one in Vandalia and be able to say, ‘I can see what’s going on here.’”
Rutherford said that “the real problem” in state government is the failure to address problems with the public pension system.
The state’s “largest tax increase” in 2011, he said, only dealt with increases in pensions. It did not help to solve the state’s problems with overdue bills.
He said that if he were asked what he would have done in 2011 had he been governor, “I wouldn’t walk out (of negotiations) until the pension issue was resolved.”
In the next budget year, a deficit of $345 million is projected. Options to handle that deficit, Rutherford said, include borrowing money, raising taxes or cut expenditures.
The fourth option, “the realistic option,” Rutherford said, is to deal with a project pension increase of $945 million.
Of all of the issues in Springfield, he said, “There is not one more important than to change the state pension system.
“None of it will be fixed without addressing the state public pension system,” he said.