Janison: Merger-mania rarely takes hold

As Newsday reported, Angie Carpenter, the current Republican

As Newsday reported, Angie Carpenter, the current Republican treasurer, has called on Democratic Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli and Democratic Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman to weigh in on the legality of the proposal. (Credit: James Escher)

Dan Janison

Melville. N.Y. Tuesday January 26, 2010. Daniel Janison, Dan Janison

Dan Janison has been a reporter at Newsday for 10

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At least this one heads soon to voters to decide.

From somewhere in New York's seemingly endless stream of proposals and presentations for "streamlining" local government comes a November ballot question on whether to abolish the Suffolk County treasurer as a separate elected office.

From one camp comes an argument common in these issues -- that the office was created for a reason. As Newsday reported Monday, Angie Carpenter, the current Republican treasurer, has called on Democratic Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli and Democratic Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman to weigh in on the legality of the proposal.

While term limits will force Carpenter from office before the proposed change would take effect, she vocally opposes putting the treasurer's duties under the county comptroller, contending it would create a conflict for the same person to approve expenditures and cut checks.

The other side, championed by Democratic County Executive Steve Bellone (who in 2011 beat Carpenter to win the job), claims monetary savings of $800,000 a year once the change takes effect from eliminating the salary of the treasurer and two top deputies.

The public should determine whether they think there really is any conflict in merging the treasurer and comptroller roles -- and whether the presumed savings could really be called significant.

Most such proposals don't get this far. In New York City, over the previous 20 years, back-to-back Republican mayors continually failed to get rid of the elected job public advocate -- or at to least remove the advocate (who's always been a Democrat) as first-in-line to succeed the mayor in case of a vacancy.

Nassau County voters changed the assessor's office from an elected to an appointed job in 2008. But wider efforts at consolidating special taxing districts -- which could carry significant cost savings -- fell short under former County Executive Thomas Suozzi. And last year, when he tried to return to the job, Suozzi spoke only of "collaboration" among districts, not "consolidation."

When someone tries to slash offices or domains of government, it means -- almost always -- invading someone else's political terrain or goring someone else's ox. That's why bookshelves, and now cyberspace, contain many forgotten reports on how to reduce the state's thousands of separate government entities.

In 1990, Gov. Mario Cuomo established a Commission on Consolidation of Local Governments.

In 2002, Gov. George Pataki created the State Task Force on Local Governmental Reform.

In 2007, Gov. Eliot Spitzer formed the Commission on Local Government Efficiency and Competitiveness.

And in recent years, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo declared it a mission to curb local taxes by reducing local government expenses.

But as ever, such changes are adopted, or rejected, a single, hard-fought measure at a time. Even when a fiscal crisis hits, merger-mania for public entities never sets in.