As state treasurer, I talk to Ohioans every day about the issues facing local families, farms and businesses. People across the Buckeye state are tightening their belts, and they expect government to do the same. I take my duty as fiscal watchdog over the hard-earned tax dollars of 11.5 million Ohioans very seriously, and have been working to lead by example in the treasurer's office.
Last week, I released the results of a fiscal year 2011 top-bottom review of the treasurer's office. I am very proud to report we are applying common sense, private sector business principles to tighten the state's belt and stretch taxpayer dollars further. As a result of this exercise, we have consolidated offices, reduced expenses and simply started to operate more efficiently.
Too often when bureaucrats get their hands on tax money, they think they have to spend it all. This money belongs to the people and should be returned whenever possible. By voluntarily reducing spending, my office ended the 2011 fiscal year with a $400,000 surplus. Over the next two years, we're set to continue this trend and reduce general revenue fund operating expenses by $1.2 million.
We are able to save this money by running government smarter. For example, when I took office, I discovered a courier was driving from Columbus to Cleveland five days a week in an unarmored and unsecured vehicle to deposit checks. On average, 89,000 checks worth a total of $234 million were transported this way every month. I directed my staff to put an end to this inefficient and potentially risky practice by implementing an electronic check processing system that ultimately will save more than $100,000 per year. If citizens can manage their bank accounts on their smart phone or personal computer, then government should be able to as well.
My staff and I also went through the Ohio treasury budget line by line to cut waste and increase efficiency guided by the simple principle that every dollar counts. We found the office could save: $30,000 by turning off unused phone, fax and mobile lines; $16,000 by having cigarette vendors pay the postage for their tax stamps; $10,000 by lowering minutes on state cell phone plans; $8,500 by switching from an out-of-state printing vendor to an Ohio-based company; and more than $2,000 by terminating a plant watering contract in the office. I also discontinued the purchase or use of promotional giveaway items with the treasurer's name printed on them, including pencils, tote bags, fans, golf shirts, water bottles, jar openers and piggy banks.
In addition to auditing the office to save money on expenses, we found ways to make more prudent investment decisions. For instance, our review found bond proceeds were generating very low yield, and could be shifted to longer-term investments to earn greater return. As a result of this decision and a rise in tax revenues, the liquidity portfolio has increased by nearly $1.3 billion since I took office. These strategies are putting more money to work for Ohio taxpayers.
I am very proud of the progress we have made to-date to reduce costs, modernize banking practices and leverage technology to streamline operations. We need to continue on this path to run government more like a business and replicate the best private sector practices.
While I believe this top-bottom review is a great first step toward tightening the belt in the treasurer's office, I know there is much more fat left to trim across state government. I will continue to work to shrink the size of government and to make government more accountable and responsive to Ohio taxpayers.