An elected official trying to lay off himself

M.D. Kittle:

State Treasurer Matt Adamczyk four years ago campaigned for the office with a novel pledge: He would do all he could in one – and only one – term to get rid of the state treasurer’s post.

On Tuesday, a state referendum question will ask voters whether the office of the treasurer should be eliminated from the constitution. And, if so, should the lieutenant governor replace the treasurer as a member of the Board of Commissioners of Public Lands, administrator of the state’s Common School Fund.

It’s a yes or no question. Adamczyk is a definite yes.

“The office of the treasurer is basically symbolic in nature. It’s a relic of the past, and I say we get rid of it,” he told MacIver News Service recently on the Vicki McKenna Show, on NewsTalk 1310 WIBA. 

The referendum to amend the constitution, on the April 3 ballot, has been mostly overshadowed by the hotly contested state Supreme Court election.

But Adamczyk, a limited-government Republican, said the treasurer’s question is bigger than the ballot issue. It’s an opportunity, at least in a small way, to reduce the size and scope of state government.

“We need to show we can try to limit government somehow,” he said. “Government just can’t keep getting bigger. We have to stop the growth in government and, at a minimum limit it, and, hopefully, reduce it.”

Adamczyk has limited some of the government footprint in the office he successfully campaigned for. One of his first acts as treasurer was to cut two bureaucratic positions. He could have filled a deputy treasurer position, which paid about $85,000 per year. He declined. The treasurer said he couldn’t hire someone for a job that didn’t have any real duties.

Adamczyk said eliminating the positions and turning the mostly symbolic treasurer’s office into a one-man show will save taxpayers about $1 million in salaries and benefits over the course of his four-year term.

Taxpayers would save another $70,000 a year in treasurer’s salary, if voters move to eliminate the office.

While an essential part of state government when Wisconsin became a state in 1848, the treasurer’s office has seen most of its duties and responsibilities shifted to other agencies. The treasurer’s remaining constitutional responsibility is to serve on the three-member Board of Commissioners of Public Lands, alongside the attorney general and the secretary of state. The referendum question would turn that obligation over to the lieutenant governor.

The Republican-controlled Legislature passed in two consecutive sessions (as the constitution requires) a resolution to take the treasurer’s question to voters. The measure earned some bipartisan support in the Assembly.

Critics of the campaign to put the treasurer’s office out of its misery insist the move is “another power grab” by Republican Gov. Scott Walker. Big government defenders such as Madison Alderman Mark Clear have urged residents of the liberal city to vote “no” on the resolution.

“The next State Treasurer should focus on providing independent information to the public about the state’s budget and fiscal health, as well as encouraging the Legislature to restore the position’s financial oversight authority,” Clear said in a press release.

But referendum question supporters, like state Rep. Rob Brooks (R-Brookfield), say the effort is about streamlining government, making it more efficient and accountable by eliminating an unnecessary office.

Adamczyk, who earlier announced he is running for the Assembly seat being vacated by state Rep. Dale Kooyenga (R-Brookfield), said he’s optimistic voters will take the “opportunity to make government smaller.”

“Most people do vote that way when given a direct chance to make government a little bit smaller,” the outgoing treasurer said.

Former state Treasurer Jack Voight wants voters to reject a referendum on April 3 that would eliminate his old job. However, his “Save Our Fiscal Watchdog” group could use a fiscal watchdog themselves.

Save Our Fiscal Watchdog submitted a campaign finance statement to the Wisconsin Ethics Commission that they raised only $209.11 for their effort and spent only $18.89 on bank charges. However, the campaign finance statement, written by Voight as the organization’s treasurer, does not include the creation of the organization’s website.

“Well, I guess somebody else created that and there was no bill for that,” Voight explained in a phone interview Tuesday. “I guess it’d be like an in-kind contribution. I suppose I could amend it to an in-kind contribution. I should do that.”

When asked who designed the website, Voight said he didn’t know. “I didn’t ask the committee who did it,” Voight said. “I probably should have asked that.”

Voight, a Republican who served three terms as state treasurer from 1995 to 2007, has been a vocal proponent of saving the endangered state constitutional office. Likewise, the website asks voters not to eliminate the treasurer’s position.

“On April 3, Wisconsin voters will be asked if they want to eliminate the office of the Wisconsin State Treasurer from our Constitution,” the website says. “This would make us the only state in the U.S. without a Treasurer or an equivalent watchdog office.”

However, the last two state treasurers were elected on a platform of eliminating the position which has grown almost completely powerless over the years. The only remaining duty of the state treasurer is to sit on the Board of Commissioners of Public Lands (BCPL), a constitutionally mandated duty that would go to the lieutenant governor’s office if a majority of voters vote yes to eliminate the treasurer’s office. …

Democrats and Voight have argued against eliminating the constitutional office, saying that it puts too much control of the BCPL in the hands of the Executive Branch by putting the lieutenant governor on the board instead. However, the lieutenant governor would be the only executive branch officer on the board, with the state attorney general and the secretary of state also continuing to serve on the board.

In addition to statements on the campaign website defending keeping the state treasurer’s position, the website also features a “vote no” campaign YouTube video, the production costs of which were also not included in the “Save Our Fiscal Watchdog” campaign finance statement.

The opponents of eliminating $70,000 in state payroll do not accurately portray what the office does. The position is not a watchdog of public funds, and hasn’t been for a long time, well before this effort to eliminate the office. Opponents also claim the duties of the office have been taken by unelected bureaucrats, which is rich for Democrats (which Voight is not) to assert given that those “unelected bureaucrats” are overwhelmingly Democrats.

James Wigderson adds:

Getting rid of the state treasurer is not a new idea. When my grandfather ran for Secretary of State in the 1950s, the Waukesha Freeman wondered in an editorial why that position and the state treasurer were still elected offices. Since then, both positions have lost considerable amounts of responsibility.

The fiscal estimates are now done by the non-partisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau. Unclaimed property is now handled by the Department of Revenue. (Full disclosure, they sent me a $20 check without me applying to reclaim the money. The system works.)

Meanwhile, the continued presence of Doug La Follette as Secretary of State proves the worthlessness of that constitutional office.

It’s spring cleaning time, and the Capitol basement would be better off used for storage.

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