August 20, 2014

Push to abolish secretary of state, treasurer

Secretary of State Doug La Follette finds himself defending his job, again.

Two Republican legislators say the offices of secretary of state and state treasurer are obsolete, yet over $2 million in taxpayer are spent on salaries, benefits, and staff. Longtime Secretary of State Doug La Follette says those supposed savings are “phony.”

The Democrat explains, his $68,000 salary would be eliminated if the state Constitution were successfully amended, but the staff would be transferred to another department — still collecting wages. “My proposal would save at least as much as their idea,” La Follette says, “because we can eliminate at least four or five high-paid appointees and return those duties to the secretary of state. That would save at least as much money as they’re talking about.”

In 1995 many responsibilities from that office were transferred to the Department of Financial Institutions (DFI). Governor Walker recently signed a measure that repealed the secretary’s duty to publish notices of new laws.

La Follette defends his office, saying the secretary serves on the Board of Commissioners of Public Lands, helping to manage nearly $1 billion of School Trust funds. La Follette is working to restore responsibilities that would make Wisconsin more business friendly.

“So what I’ve said … if we wanna make Wisconsin open for business and friendly and improve our economy, we need to return those business-related functions — trademarks, corporations, etc — to the secretary of state’s office.”

Wisconsin’s private sector jobs grew by 1.4 percent last year, according to information released Thursday by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. However, not as much as the national rate, which increased 2.3 percent. Overall, Wisconsin ranked 33rd in the nation for private sector job growth in 2012.

La Follette acknowledges the average person probably doesn’t know what the secretary of state does, but he says the people looking for those business functions “know what the office of secretary of state does — or should be doing.”

The state treasurer’s office says they welcome a conversation with the lawmakers about the function of that office, but says the office doesn’t cost the taxpayers a dime because it operates with interest accrued from unclaimed money.

The current treasurer, Republican Kurt Schuller, had campaigned on eliminating that office. The treasurer also serves on the Board of Commissioners of Public Lands.

State Representatives Michael Schraa (R-Oshkosh) and Tyler August (R-Lake Geneva) on Thursday introduced a constitutional amendment to eliminate the positions. A constitutional amendment must first pass two consecutive sessions of the legislature and get voter approval in a statewide referendum in the form of two separate questions to eliminate each position. A press release says the bill is written to allow for elimination of one position but not the other, should the voters choose.