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Published March 05, 2012, 11:46 AM

Democrat candidate for ND treasurer promises better job

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — A Democratic candidate for North Dakota treasurer said Monday he will improve the oversight of a state trust fund that benefits veterans, saying it pays too much in investment fees.

By: DALE WETZEL, Associated Press

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — A Democratic candidate for North Dakota treasurer said Monday he will improve the oversight of a state trust fund that benefits veterans, saying it pays too much in investment fees.

Ross Mushik, a Mandan businessman and former financial analyst for state government agencies, said the veterans' fund has taken on more investment risk and paid $180,000 in excess fees and costs since its management was switched from the state Investment Board to a private broker in 2005.

The fund has $4.3 million in assets, according to a financial statement posted on the website of the North Dakota treasurer's office. "This little fund cannot carry that kind of load," Mushik said.

The incumbent treasurer, Republican Kelly Schmidt, is running for her third term. She was first elected to the office in 2004.

Schmidt said the fund pays less than 1 percent in fees, and that private management allowed for closer supervision than the state Investment Board would provide for a small fund. The board oversees pension and trust funds with more than $5.5 billion in assets.

"I have not found a way that we can keep our fees as low as they are and continue to contribute to veterans in a manner that we need to," Schmidt said. "It's not something that we just invest and let sit. It needs constant management."

The treasurer has seven employees and a two-year operating budget of $1.4 million. The office manages revenue distributions to local governments of a number of taxes, including state taxes on oil and gas production.

A committee made up of representatives of veterans' groups uses earnings from the Veterans' Postwar Trust Fund, as it is known, to finance programs that benefit veterans.

Mushik said he would work closely with the panel "to create a financial management plan for the veterans' fund in order for it to grow, and continue to provide benefits."

The 52-year-old Mushik operates a lawn care business. He is a former private financial planner and budget analyst and auditor for the state Tax Department, the Office of Intergovernmental Assistance and the state emergency management division.

He served for three years on the Mandan school board in the mid-1980s.

"I bring the values of fiscal responsibility and accountability to the office, and as a former state employee, I know how state government works," Mushik said.

Mushik's mother, Corliss Mushik, served in the North Dakota House and Senate, including stints as an assistant Democratic House floor leader and vice chairwoman of the Senate Appropriations Committee. Corliss Mushik died in 2004.

North Dakota Republicans and Democrats will endorse their preferred candidates for state treasurer at their respective state conventions later this month.

The Democratic convention is taking place at the Alerus Center in Grand Forks March 16-18. The Republican convention, at the Bismarck Civic Center, is being held March 30-April 1.

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