Bi-partisan support emerges to do away with state Treasurer's Office, shorten session

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BISMARCK, N.D. - As committee work begins to ramp up, shaping and molding bills for final passage, legislators are proposing several major changes in how the state does business.

The theme of the fifth day of the 65th legislative session was streamlining government.

Several lawmakers are proposing changes that they say would make the government more flexible and efficient.

North Dakota voters may soon have a chance to directly vote to make the government smaller. A bi-partisan resolution filed Monday would put a ballot question before voters, do you want to get rid of the state Treasurer's Office?

"The voters of North Dakota could have a direct impact on trying to make government smaller. If they don't, well then, we kind of know where they stand. We'll see if the voters, and quite frankly, if the legislature, is serious about trying to right-size government," says Rep. Mike Nathe, R-Bismarck.

State Treasurer Kelly Schmidt declined an interview, but says:

The Treasurer's Office provides the checks and balances and the transparency in government spending that the people have come to trust. Proponents of the measure say those tasks could be absorbed into other agencies.

In the legislature itself, leaders from both sides of the aisle, say they wouldn't mind getting out of town a little early to save session days in case they're forced to come back to Bismarck.

"There might be some things that come down the line that we have to deal with. But I want to remind people that we're going to do our work first. It's not, 'get done in a hurry just to get done in a hurry,'" says Sen. Rich Wardner, Senate Majority Leader.

"We don't know what may be coming down the road as a new administration is working in Washington, D.C., so I guess the best that we can say is, be prepared and be ready to respond to anything that we need," says Rep. Corey Mock, House Minority Leader.

Republican leaders have proposed using only 70 of the 80 days allotted every two years in the session proper. Last interim, lawmakers were forced to reconvene twice: once to finalize changes to the Public Employees Retirement System and once to deal with the billion dollar budget shortfall.

Getting rid of the office was Democratic Senator Tim Mathern's platform when he ran for state treasurer this election cycle.

"Democrats recognize that there are important programs that we want to fund, but in order to fund important programs, we have to save dollars elsewise. So I think this is a great time to streamline government," says Sen. Tim Mathern, D-Fargo.