Great Editorial

 
 

Strengthen secretary of state and state treasurer

 
October 07, 2013 9:00 am  •  Cap Times editorial
 

The founders of the Wisconsin experiment understood that democracy was a good thing. That’s one of the reasons they distributed power among different elected officials — rather than concentrating it in the hands of an all-powerful governor.

For most of the state's history, Wisconsinites elected a secretary of state and a state treasurer with clear responsibilities. Over the past several decades, however, those positions have been stripped of many of their traditional responsibilities.

The changes are often promoted as cost-saving measures. But they are never that.

No money is ever saved in the process of shifting duties from agencies led by elected officials to agencies led by appointed allies of the governor. The duties remain, the costs remain; they are simply performed in state agencies controlled by the governor.

Unfortunately, with this shifting of responsibility has come a loss of focus and accountability.

Now legislators are proposing to eliminate the secretary of state and state treasurer positions, and to put radical restrictions on the state Board of Commissioners of Public Lands, on which the elected secretary of state and state treasurer sit (along with the attorney general). While this board may not get a lot of publicity, it performs some important functions — generating financial aid for public school libraries; providing financing for community projects; and fighting to keep Wisconsin forests available for sustainable timber production and public recreation. And it controls a pot of money that lawmakers would like to get their hands on.

Rather than eliminating elected positions, and handing more power to the governor and his appointees, the Legislature should restore power to the secretary of state and state treasurer positions. And it should be zealous about preserving the independence of agencies such as the public lands board.

Wisconsin has a good history of ensuring that government structures serve the people. The proposals to eliminate elected positions and to shift authority to appointed cronies and unaccountable agencies are exceptionally unwise.

 
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