Abolish That $70,000 Office!

March 06, 1993

In the private sector, when a job becomes superfluous it often is the first to go when times are tough and expenses must be trimmed. Not so in the public sector, where eliminating a meaningless job is sometimes difficult to achieve.

Here's one example: the secretary of state's office in Annapolis serves as a clerical dumping ground for the executive department. Anything that must be filed or registered with the governor is handled in that office. It also publishes the new volumes of state regulations -- a cottage industry in itself. All these tasks are performed by staff bureaucrats. The secretary does little, if anything, of importance. Yet he is paid $70,000 a year.

If legislators are looking for somewhere to cut the governor's budget, here is the perfect spot. Winfield M. Kelly Jr., the current secretary of state, is resigning to run Dimensions Health Corp. in Prince George's County. That gives Gov. William Donald Schaefer and lawmakers an ideal chance to save some tax dollars.

Since the post is largely ceremonial, with virtually no important duties, the governor ought to appoint someone to the job who can handle these chores as an interim $1 a year volunteer. This would send a strong message that Mr. Schaefer is serious about reducing excessive government costs. It would also set the stage for abolishing the secretary of state's job in next year's election.

A bill in the legislature, sponsored by Sen. Barbara Hoffman of Baltimore City, would do just that, shifting the duties of the office to the lieutenant governor. Voters would have to approve this change but we think they'd do so enthusiastically. After all, the lieutenant governor has no assigned duties under the constitution, which means taxpayers are shelling out $100,000 a year for nothing. Why not let the lieutenant governor -- whose post was created just in case something happened to the governor -- take over the clerical duties of the secretary of state? This would save $70,000, plus fringes, every year.

Mr. Kelly's decision to return to the private sector presents the governor and legislators with a golden opportunity to take some constructive steps to modernize the state constitution while also removing a needless expense from the budget. It would be a small but symbolic step sure to win the overwhelming support of taxpayers. And that's something every politician could use these days.

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