The conventional wisdom prior to the April election was that the State Treasurer’s Office was on its way out. Almost everyone I know expected the constitutional amendment to eliminate the Treasurer to pass, including me. I was disappointed when I couldn’t convince a majority of my Senate colleagues it was a bad idea to amend the Constitution to concentrate even more authority in fewer and fewer people’s hands. In addition to being disappointed, I was discouraged because I thought it was going to be adopted by the voters.
I think we all were surprised by the outcome. I should have had more faith in real wisdom as opposed to conventional wisdom. Because Wisconsin’s ultimate decisions makers – you – turned out impressively and voted to retain this office’s historic independence. Admittedly, Governor Walker and his predecessors have stripped powers from this office, a fact that was used to argue for eliminating it. But a group of dedicated voters banded together to point out the Treasurer’s remaining important roles, especially – as we’ll see – when it comes to public education. Even more impressively, with little fanfare or publicity, voters who came to the polls for local races and a seat on the State Supreme Court decided individually and overwhelmingly to reject this consolidation of power.
The importance of this decision was really brought home by a letter I received from the Board of Commissioners of Public Lands. One of the responsibilities the State Treasurer retains is a seat on this board, which oversees the Common School Fund. Under our state constitution, proceeds from the sale of public lands are distributed to districts across Wisconsin. The 40 school districts I am privileged to represent have received over $6 million in library aid from this fund since I’ve been your Senator.
You may recall the debate about restoring some of the aid directed to rural and sparsely populated districts. Despite promises that rural Wisconsin would be a priority this legislative session, $18 million in promised increases to sparsity aid were cut from the budget in the wake of the decision to send Billions to Fox Conn.
This spring Gov. Walker and my Republican colleagues realized their mistake and made well-publicized pledges to restore the aid. But in the end, they couldn’t find their way to restoring more than a third of the cut – $6 million.
Fortunately, the wisdom of our state’s 169-year old Constitution to create the Common School Fund has sent the same amount -- $6 million -- home to our communities. And the wisdom of our state’s voters kept an independent voice on the Board of Commissioners.
This month was an important reminder of the wisdom of our state’s Founders. In addition to creating a system of checks, balances and separate powers, they enshrined the right to vote in the state’s Constitution. Putting the ultimate decisions about our state in your hands has proven to be the best way to protect the values of independence and responsibility that we hold dear.