FOX 11 Investigates: Voters to decide fate of state treasurer's office

The door of the Office of the State Treasurer located in the basement of the Wisconsin State Capitol. (WLUK)

(WLUK) -- Tucked away, deep inside the State Capitol, you'll find one man on a quest to get rid of his own position.

"We have an office right now that doesn't have any duties left. So, why would we keep it?" said Wisconsin State Treasurer Matt Adamczyk.

The Republican was elected state treasurer in 2014. His platform: Eliminate the state treasurer.

"I told people that this office is meaningless and that's why I could've gotten in and not done anything at all. But I specifically got in to say I'm going to push this effort to eliminate it," he told Fox 11 Investigates.

The position of treasurer in Wisconsin goes all the way back to 1839, nine years before Wisconsin became a state. But in the past 20 years, the Legislature has moved most of the treasurer's duties to other agencies.

For example, the cash management functions were moved to the Department of Administration in 2003.

EdVest was moved in 2011.

Two years later, the unclaimed property program was moved to the Department of Revenue.

The annual budget for the treasurer's office dropped from more than $5,000,000 in 2007 to $113,500 today. Most of that, including $69,701 in salary plus benefits, goes to the state treasurer.

So, what does he do?

When asked about the duties of the office, Adamczyk replied, "The duties are mostly to serve on the board of commissioners of public lands."

That's right. He sits on one board. It meets twice a month, sometimes for as little as 15 minutes.

The treasurer, along with the attorney general and secretary of state make up the Board of Commissioners of Public Lands. The agency manages the state's Common School Fund.

The proceeds of that fund are used to help fund public school libraries across the state. In 2017, the fund distributed $32-million to the libraries.

"The board has quite a bit of money," Adamczyk said. "It's a billion-dollar trust fund. It's a very important fund in that it manages quite a bit of money."

On April 3, voters will decide the future of the treasurer's office. A constitutional amendment seeking to eliminate the position is on the ballot next Tuesday.

Adamczyk supports the effort to eliminate the position. The lieutenant governor would fill the position on the board of Commissioners of Public Lands.

"The reality is there's not much left so I'll be voting yes to get rid of it," Adamczyk said.

But former state treasurer Jack Voight, also a Republican, says it's a bad idea.

"I think it's short-sighted, myopic. I also believe we need checks and balances in this state," Voight told FOX 11 Investigates.

Voight says the legislature has slowly made the treasurer's office irrelevant.

"There's a need for a financial voice in this state," Voight said. "What's happened it's been a drip-drip situation of removals of these duties to the executive branch."

Voight says the effort to eliminate the treasurer is all about control, specifically over the Common School Fund.

"It's all about the Golden Rule. If you have the gold, you rule," he said. "I really believe that's what happening here is that they want more control at the governor's level as opposed to having an independent fiscal watchdog."

Governor Scott Walker (R-Wisconsin) supports getting rid of the treasurer's office but says it's about accountability, not control.

"I just think it's one of those where most people don't even know who the state treasurer is let alone how to hold them accountable. It's better to say I'm going to hold the governor and the Legislature accountable for fiscal matters," Walker said.

"It really is a relic of the past in my opinion," said State Rep. Michael Schraa (R-Oshkosh).

Schraa has led the effort to change the constitution. He says lawmakers are the check and balance on the governor not the treasurer.

"It's really senseless to have the position now where he has no real authority or no decision making," he said.

The effort to eliminate the state treasurer's office is nothing new. In fact, according to the Legislative Reference Bureau, the first attempt was made all the way back in 1911.

"They made a mistake in 1911 and we're making a mistake today and the people will be making a mistake on April 3rd if they vote for it," said State Sen. Dave Hansen (D-Green Bay).

Hansen says the treasurer's position should be strengthen, not eliminated.

"There's no reason to say yes to this. It's not going to save you any money. It's just an opportunity to say hey, we need independence when we're talking about finances," Hansen said.

"I believe that it will pass by a pretty strong majority. If it doesn't, I will be the first one out of the box writing legislation to try to put some authority and some power back into the position," Schraa told FOX 11 Investigates.

If the constitutional amendment passes, don't expect Adamczyk to vacate his basement office any time soon.

When if the position is eliminated, would he be done the next day, Adamczyk responded, "No, I told people when I ran that I would serve one term and only one term. I have a couple months left after that and I plan to do the stuff I've been working on trying to find ways to make government more efficient."

Adamczyk told FOX 11 Investigates he plans to donate a quarter of after-tax salary back to the state. He says he's already donated back $10,000 and plans to donate the rest by the end of his term.

What about other states? Most of them have some type of elected treasurer to oversee their state's finances. There have been five states, however, that have either eliminated or merged their treasurer's offices, including mostly recently Minnesota in 2003.

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