LITTLE ROCK — The Saline County clerk, a former state Republican Party chairman who has announced a bid for state treasurer next year, leveled criticism Friday against legislation that seeks to restructure the office he seeks.
Dennis Milligan likened Senate Bill 838 to "trading off your car just because it needs an oil change."
SB 838 by Sen. Jason Rapert, R-Conway, would increase the size of the Board of Finance and expand the panel’s oversight of state investments by the treasurer’s office. The board also would be allowed to decide who works at several important positions in the treasurer’s office.
The 33-page bill also details a series of required procedures for various investments by the state treasurer.
The bill was endorsed by the Senate Insurance and Commerce Committee on Thursday and is on Monday’s Senate agenda.
The measure is in response to financial moves by state Treasurer Martha Shoffner that were questioned in a state audit critical of her handling of the office.
In December, the Legislative Joint Auditing Committee asked for a criminal investigation into the way Shoffner’s office sold bonds, including her decision to sell bonds before they matured that cost the state more than $434,000 in potential earnings.
Results of the state audit were turned over to the Pulaski County prosecutor. Officials also revealed earlier this year that Shoffner has been under federal investigation for more than a year.
In a statement Friday, Milligan panned SB 838 as "bad legislation" and a "knee-jerk reaction to the shameful way" Shoffner has run the treasurer’s office.
"Senate Bill 838 seeks to change the office and leave the problem — Martha Shoffner — to finish her last 21 months in office," Milligan said.
He said he supports expanding the size of the finance board but questioned giving the panel authority to hire and fire key members of the treasurer’s staff.
"Under this bill I have to ask, ‘Why do we even need a treasurer if this passes?" he said.
Rapert said Milligan’s concerns were off base.
"I don’t believe that Mr. Milligan has been a party to the committee hearings in which we fully vetted this and there are even employees in the state treasurer’s office, as well as many people in Legislative Audit and many legislators that believe that this is necessary, irregardless of the actions of Treasurer Martha Shoffner," Rapert said.
"In terms of the legislation, the management of billions of dollars in state taxpayer funds should not be interrupted with periodic elections and the Board of Finance, which the treasurer is a member, does have direct oversight of those people, and in day-to-day operations the treasurer would be responsible to interact and direct policies in the office, but those positions would answer to the Board of Finance," Rapert said.
Shoffner did not immediately return a call seeking comment Friday.