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Wisconsin Voters Could Scrap Treasurer’s Office In April Election

State Republicans Have Long Sought To Remove Office

By
Phil Roeder (CC-BY)

Voters will decide on April 3 whether to keep or eliminate the state Treasurer, a constitutional office that’s as old as the state of Wisconsin itself.

Those who support the change say the treasurer’s office has been stripped of so many duties that it’s no longer relevant, while those fighting the amendment say the treasurer provides an important check on executive power.

The treasurer has been a statewide elected office in Wisconsin since 1848. While it once had broad authority over the state’s finances, it has seen those duties stripped away over the past couple decades.

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The treasurer is still one of three officials, along with the secretary of state and attorney general, who sit on the Bureau of Commissioners of Public Lands. The BCPL is responsible for generating investment income for public schools and libraries from 77,000 acres of state-owned forests.

Former Republican Treasurer Jack Voight, who is fighting to keep the treasurer’s office, said getting rid of the treasurer places too much power in the hands of the governor.

“If this passes,” Voight said, “the Secretary of State’s Office and the (Bureau of) Commissioner of Public Lands will be next on the ballot for elimination. There’ll be more concentration of power in the executive branch, and we don’t need to go there.”

Over the years, multiple Wisconsin governors have worked with the Legislature to whittle away at the treasurer’s duties.

Former Republican Gov. Tommy Thompson took away the treasurer’s power to hold state securities, transferring those powers to the Wisconsin Investment Board. With the help of the Legislature, Thompson also transferred the Division of Trust Lands and Investment to the state Department of Administration, which answers to the governor.

Under former Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle, the treasurer’s cash management functions were moved to the DOA.

And under Gov. Scott Walker, Wisconsin’s college savings program known as EdVest was moved to the DOA, as was Wisconsin’s unclaimed property program.

Current Republican Treasurer Matt Adamczyk, who ran on a platform of eliminating his office, says those moves made the office irrelevant.

“I’m working on where we’re at today in reality,” Adamczyk said. “And the reality says we have an office that’s been stripped of duties, so why keep it?”

Adamczyk said other state agencies that answer to the Legislature are Wisconsin’s fiscal watchdog.

“In our state, we already have an independent, nonpartisan fiscal bureau, which is similar to the national Congressional Budget Office, that does all the analysis already,” Adamczyk said. “We have a Legislative Audit Bureau.”

But Voight said it’s troubling to concentrate more power in the hands of the governor, and it’s not what Wisconsin’s founders intended.

“Our constitution is very important,” Voight said. “It’s almost like the political Bible of our state. It’s the foundation of our existence. And we should not be tampering with that.”

The treasurer question was added to the April 3 ballot after it passed two consecutive sessions of the Legislature.

Previous attempts to eliminate the office over several decades never made it to the ballot.

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