One hundred and 71. That’s not only the age of Wisconsin but also the age of the state treasurer’s office. This historical constitutional office has been serving Wisconsinites since the very beginning. As I reflect on my first hundred days as treasurer, I am proud of the resilience this office has shown in rising above the political fray to serve our great state. Let me explain.
Over the past decade, there have been numerous attempts to diminish the role of the state treasurer — eroding important checks and balances. The final straw came last year, when voters were presented with the option to permanently remove this office from our constitution. Wisconsinites responded clearly by voting overwhelmingly to protect our state’s fiscal watchdog. After I worked with a bipartisan coalition to save the office, I ran knowing I would have to roll up my sleeves and rebuild it from the ground up.
I walked into my office for the first time on Jan. 6 of this year. The office did not have internet, the phones were disconnected and cords were hanging from the ceiling. I was, and still am, the only employee in this statewide office with a total budget of $113,500. There is no excuse for this wanton neglect of our state’s chief fiscal watchdog. The Office of the State Treasurer is self-funded, operating on revenue generated by programs supported or administered by the office. And while today there are millions of dollars of program revenue for the office, we cannot access this money to rebuild and carry out our responsibilities. Why? Because, access to even a dollar of these funds requires legislative approval.
So, why does this office deserve access to these funds? There are 17 statutory responsibilities this office is required to fulfill. These include investing public money, pursuing economic security for Wisconsin taxpayers and serving as your fiscal watchdog. In our first hundred days, we have reversed policies preventing us from making sound investments. For example, through my work as chair of the school trust funds, which amount to $1.2 billion, we have overturned a climate change gag order on our investments and lifted the ban on renewable energy funding. And earlier this month, these trusts returned $36 million to fund schools and libraries.
Since taking office, we have fielded hundreds of calls, emails and visits from Wisconsinites seeking our support — and we don’t plan to stop here. Treasurers across the country are the leading voices on financial matters. Retirement is just one example of this. Over half of Americans have no retirement savings. It’s financially irresponsible to ignore this because absent a solution, it will come at a significant cost to taxpayers as well as our communities. Eighty-eight percent of Wisconsinites support a state-run retirement option. I was recently appointed to a leadership role on the retirement task force created by Gov. Tony Evers. It’s important we consider all options to address retirement.
In addition, Wisconsin has the sixth largest percentage of graduates with outstanding student loan debt, for which annual interest rates can reach 15 percent. This inflicts an incredible burden on young people that negatively impacts our economy. And, unlike your home or car loan, there is no way to refinance student debt. The governor has proposed a student loan refinancing authority where I am part of a three-person leadership group working to reduce this liability for hard-working Wisconsinites.
What can you do to help? Please support Evers’ budget. The governor has proposed essential funding for the treasurer’s office that will help protect your tax dollars and build a stronger economy for everyone. Despite our skeleton organization, I will continue to serve Wisconsinites with the grit and resilience they deserve. I hope the prevailing politics holding up this office’s budget will soon be put aside. Wisconsin did vote overwhelmingly to keep its state treasurer, and, after all, money is not blue or red — it’s green!
Godlewski, formerly of Eau Claire, is Wisconsin’s 36th state treasurer.