"....Steelman increased expenditures in the treasurer's office by approximately 40 percent from $26.5 million in FY2005 during her predecessor's final year on the job to $37.2 million in FY2008."
But that number, dished in a news release, reflects a misunderstanding of state budget documents.
The budget numbers the Brunner camp cited include millions of dollars in the state's unclaimed property fund. That's a pot of money the state collects that includes money from checks that don't ever clear a bank or dividend checks that shareholders don't cash.
In fact, the unclaimed property total reached $20.8 million in fiscal 2005, which covers the time when Steelman took over the treasurer's office, and $33.0 million in fiscal '08 as Steelman's term was nearing its end.
Here's the rub: State treasurers from both parties in recent years, Steelman included, have worked to increase the amount in those budgets because that reflects greater amounts returned to taxpayers. That's the stated goal of the unclaimed property fund. The money belongs to somebody out there, and the treasurer's office has worked to return the money to its rightful owner.
So when Steelman INCREASED the amount in the unclaimed property fund, that might be considered a good thing.
But Brunner used it to erroneously suggest that Steelman grew the size of her office. In fact, the number of full-time employees remained essentially unchanged at 49 during her time in office. Administrative expenses grew by almost 9 percent during her four years in office (calculating from fiscal '06, when Steelman wrote her first budget for the office), which presumably reflects cost-of-living increases of about 2 percent a year.
Brunner's camp continues to insist that their figures are correct, even when presented with information about why the unclaimed property fund increased by 40 percent.
"It's not a debatable number. If you look at it with those four fiscal years, total expenditures of the state treasurer's office went up by 40 percent," said spokesman Todd Abrajano.
He would not comment on whether Steelman was successful at returning unclaimed property.
Brunner's criticism of Steelman came in a news release distributed near debate's end. He did not mention the issue during the 90-minute forum.
Said Steelman spokesman Sam Steelman: "I'm afraid Mr. Brunner doesn't know how to read a budget. As state treasurer she increased the money, in record amounts, that this office returned to Missouri citizens."