Candidates vying for the post of state treasurer said they would not use the office as a springboard to advance their political future and questioned whether the office’s powers should be further expanded in the debate alone. the race on Tuesday.
The debate, organized by KTWU and the Department of Political Science at Washburn University, came as voters decide whether to give incumbent Democratic Treasurer Lynn Rogers a full term after she was nominated to replace U.S. Representative Jake LaTurner in 2020, following LaTurner’s election to Congress. .
The challenge is State Rep. Steven Johnson, R-Assaria, the Republican nominee after a hotly contested primary, and former Kansas State Board of Education member Steve Roberts, the Libertarian nominee.
The Office of the Treasurer manages a range of state offices and initiatives, from the unclaimed property program to overseeing the state’s 529 college savings account program, is the custodian of cash deposits and bonds and has a vote on the Pooled Money Investment Board and the state pension fund board.
Will candidates for state treasurer commit to serving a full term?
Over the past 50 years, treasurers have regularly used the office and its important public platform as a stepping stone to higher office, with LaTurner the latest in a string of former treasurers to leave in the middle of a term.
All three candidates said they were not interested in following suit and seeking a higher position, saying their skills were a good fit for the office of treasurer and they were committed to the work of the office.
Rogers said negligence by former office holders led to antiquated banking systems that hampered his work.
A former banker, Wichita school board member, and state senator, Rogers served as lieutenant governor before becoming treasurer. He said he has already streamlined functions and increased adoption of the 529 savings program.
“When I got to the office, I really found an office that had been really gutted, with a lot of things that hadn’t been done because the focus was more on running for Congress,” he said. he declared, adding that he would not be running for Congress and “there were no plans at that time” to seek another statewide office.
Johnson, chairman of the House Insurance and Pensions Committee and former employee of Ameriprise Financial, highlighted his work in turning around the state pension fund, which has regained stability after years of underfunding in the 1990s and 2000s .
He argued for a strictly monetary, no-nonsense approach to running the office and said he would avoid investments in potentially volatile overseas markets.
Congress, he added, was also not in his future, as he “planned to run for re-election as treasurer in four years.”
“Right now we have specific needs where we need to make sure we ask the questions about how assets are invested,” Johnson said. “That’s what I want to focus on. I think it will take more than four years to make sure we keep balanced portfolios.”
The three contestants also vowed they would not appear in television commercials to promote the 529 Savings Account, one of the tools that has been used to promote both the program designed to help families save for tax-free university – and also to stimulate the policy of the treasurer. fortune.
Although the treasurer does not directly play a role in education policy, Roberts said he will seek to work with lawmakers and the school board on school funding and curriculum issues.
But he said he would prefer to eliminate the 529 savings account program altogether because it “is not a function of the state government.”
“As a libertarian, I would say we don’t really need that,” he said. “If you’re a good little saver, you’re a good little saver and you’re saving for college.”
Open Candidates for a Powerful Audit Function in the Treasurer’s Office
Many states have a position dedicated to auditing the finances and affairs of state agencies. But Kansas has lacked such a position since being eliminated in the 1970s.
Johnson’s main opponent, Sen. Caryn Tyson, R-Parker, has proposed restoring those powers to the state treasurer to ensure transparency and combat waste, fraud and abuse of state resources. ‘State.
The three candidates said they were open to such a proposal, although none seemed too enthusiastic about the idea.
Rogers noted that such a move could cost several million dollars and require annual state appropriations, as well as legislative authorization. The Legislature already has a nonpartisan audit arm that performs many of the same functions, the Office of Legislative Post-Audit.
“In the past it’s been tried, but I’m not sure it’s gone that far with the Legislative Assembly,” Rogers said.
Johnson said he would be open to the idea, provided the audits were actually used to implement change. It may be more prudent, he added, to work collaboratively with the Legislative Assembly on such investigations.
“If we create audits that sit on a shelf rather than being actively used by a legislative team, that doesn’t add much value,” he said.
The idea, Roberts said, would need careful consideration and he still wasn’t sure if it would be a good idea to pursue in Kansas.
“It probably wouldn’t be safe to rush into that,” he said.