Effort to eliminate Wisconsin state treasurer moving ahead

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MADISON, Wis. (AP) — The Republican-backed effort to eliminate the Wisconsin state treasurer position is moving closer to approval in the Legislature, despite opposition from a group concerned about how the change would affect public school libraries.

A state Senate committee planned a public hearing and vote on the proposed constitutional amendment Tuesday. Once it clears the full Legislature, voters statewide would have to approve it in the April 2018 election before the constitution would be amended to eliminate the office at the end of that year.

Republicans have already successfully done away with most of the treasurer's duties since 2011, concluding with transferring the unclaimed property division to the Department of Revenue in 2014. The treasurer's only remaining responsibility is to sit as a member of the Board of Commissioners of Public Lands, a little-known entity that manages trust funds built through fees, fines and land sales.

The board is comprised of the treasurer, attorney general and secretary of state. Part of the money it distributes from the Common School Fund goes to Wisconsin's public school libraries. The money is the only dedicated source of state funding for public school libraries. For many school districts, it is the only money available to them to buy library books, newspapers, periodicals and other resources.

Last year, public school libraries received $32.1 million from the fund.

The Wisconsin Educational Media and Technology Association, which advocates for public school libraries, is the only group that's registered to lobby against doing away with the treasurer.

The group, in a letter it submitted to lawmakers, argued that the current board members are "ideal custodians" of the fund because they don't play a leading role in K-12 school funding or the state budget process.

It worries that replacing the treasurer with the lieutenant governor on the board could have unintended consequences jeopardizing the future performance of the fund.

"Now, more than ever, we must work to ensure that the Common School Fund is protected from competing financial interests," the group said in its letter to lawmakers.

That argument has not stopped the Legislature from moving ahead with eliminating the position. The Legislature passed the amendment last session and the Assembly is scheduled to vote on it again next week. Once the Senate passes it for a second time, it would then go to voters next year.

The measure's sponsor, Republican state Rep. Michael Schraa, said the treasurer position is merely symbolic and "a relic of the past." And co-sponsor state Sen. Dan Feyen, a Republican from Fond du Lac, said the treasurer's office "has no purpose and no reason to exist."

Current Treasurer Matt Adamczyk campaigned in 2014 on the platform of eliminating the office, as did his predecessor Kurt Schuller in 2010. They are both Republicans. The treasurer is paid $69,936 a year.

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Follow Scott Bauer on Twitter at http://twitter.com/sbauerAP and find more of his work at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/scott-bauer


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