Kentucky’s state treasurer is in charge of Kentucky’s money and making sure state spending is legal and constitutional.
While candidates running for treasurer race run on a political party ticket, the job was created to serve as a watchdog over taxpayer dollars, no matter the political party in the legislature or who’s in the Governor’s mansion. They serve four-year terms, and can be elected twice.
The treasurer also sits on several state boards, such as the Kentucky Teachers’ Retirement System, the Lottery Board and the Kentucky Higher Education Assistance Authority. The office is also in charge of state unclaimed property, such as rental deposits, old life insurance policies, stocks or paychecks that weren’t returned to Kentuckians.
The current treasurer, Republican Allison Ball, has used the past four years to launch projects like a state spending transparency website, and started a savings and investment program for people with disabilities. She said starting these accounts, which were enabled by a federal law, allow people with disabilities who are enrolled in programs like Social Security to save more money without losing that benefit.
Ball has a law degree from the University of Kentucky, and was previously a bankruptcy and commercial litigation attorney.
Ball’s Democratic challenger is Michael Bowman, a U.S. Bank branch manager in Louisville. He graduated from the University of Louisville’s Fine Arts program and later was the chief legislative assistant to Louisville’s Metro Councilwoman Cindi Fowler. Bowman was a Democratic candidate for Jefferson County Clerk last year, but lost to incumbent Bobbie Holsclaw.
Bowman wants Kentucky lawmakers to legalize gambling and marijuana to bring in additional tax revenue to help solve the state’s retirement pension crisis. He also wants to make a phone app for Kentuckians to more easily find out if they have unclaimed property. Both Ball and Bowman sat for interviews with WFPL; their responses have been edited for length and clarity.
What challenges do you anticipate if you’re elected/reelected?
“This year, we actually had a surplus in the state, which is really good. But we still have a pension crisis that’s eating up a lot of a lot of dollars — you need to be need to tighten your belt as much as you can and make sure you’re using money as wisely as you can be. And that’s one reason I also push for transparency, because I think it’s important that people see where their money is going when you don’t have an abundance of money.
“And the things that I’ve done while in office, I’ve had to do them in sort of a creative way because we don’t have a lot of extra cash. The website I launched — the transparency website — I modeled after the one that was done in Ohio. But their treasurer invested a million dollars into it. We didn’t have an extra million dollars to spare in Kentucky. So I was able to work with relationships that we currently have and just work internally with resources already had. And I was able to launch the website without costing anything more, which was great.”
“Obviously, the pension problem is probably one of the biggest issues that faces Kentucky today. We have billions in unfunded liabilities, simply because the legislature hasn’t kept its promise.
“We have to fund it. So making sure that we do that is going to be more than just making an appropriation from the revenues that we come in. It’s going to be a discussion about expanding revenue without increasing taxes on the hard-working families that are already taxed to the end. That means things like expanded gaming, legalization of cannabis, whether it’s medicinal and even a conversation about recreational use. The state of Colorado has generated a billion dollars in revenue off the legalization of marijuana.
“So [treasurer] is it is an administrative job for the most part, but you’re one of seven elected people that has a platform that you can advocate for change. When you consider that I’m elected by all 120 counties, I have a moral obligation to stand up and be able to use my background understanding, the financial industry, how best to invest things that we can do to put us on a better financial footing as a state.”
Why should you be elected/reelected?
“I have not only done a job the way it’s supposed to be done, I’ve been that watchdog on taxpayer dollars. I’ve stopped fraud. I caught a $5.3 million fraud attempt several months ago, caught embezzlement attempts. I made sure whatever comes out of my office was legal, was constitutional, was correct. And that’s the core function of the job.
“One of the things I’ve been very proud of is, I’ve been able to figure out what can I do with the resources that I have. And I’ve been able to be innovative and creative in partnerships to do more than has ever been done from the Treasury. I’ve returned more unclaimed property than any other treasurer in the same four-year term. And I’ve reformed unclaimed property, make sure it’s updated — it had not been updated since the 1980s. So I’ve taken what already existed, and I’ve improved it.
“And I’ve now become known as of the top leaders on financial literacy in the country. The United States Treasurer just last week, mentioned me in a speech about what we’re doing in Kentucky and how it’s a model for the country to address financial literacy. We got a bill passed last year to make it a high school requirement to have a course or program on financial literacy. And that was a big deal.”
“The treasurer’s job, first and foremost, is to ensure that we’re holding our tax dollars accountable, where they’re coming in, where they’re going. As treasurer, it allows you to be the stopgap that doesn’t allow one single individual like a governor total unfettered access to your tax dollars. And, you know, it gives me a position to be able to look at expenditures and say, you know, this doesn’t comport with the law and challenge that.
“A couple of examples I’ll use, one most recently that we’ve seen, there was a company by the name of Interblue that was going to build a battery manufacturing plant in Eastern Kentucky. We gave them $6 million, because they were having difficulty with finding investors and funding. Now we find out that that entity is going bankrupt.
“Many media reports have shown that this business didn’t have a viable business plan, it was nothing more than an idea on paper. And had we looked at it up front and said, ‘Where’s transparency in terms of where the other investors coming from, what’s the business plan actually look like before we give our tax dollars to support this?’ You know, at the end of the day, the treasurer is the one who signs that check. And they’re the only one who has the ability to tell the governor ‘no.’”
What things might you want to work on if elected/reelected, and are there any other details voters should know?
“I’m really excited about doing some more things with financial literacy, growing transparency. I want to do some partnerships at the local level, to include local governments, school boards and area development districts. I’ve already begun meeting with people and putting things in place for my second term.
“The only other thing I ever like to mention — it’s not necessarily an accomplishment while in office — but I’m the first constitutional officer to have a baby while in office. I think that’s great for a state that we’ve got young people starting families, who are also willing to serve. And I think that just gives you a good perspective about what life is really like. I’m a working mom, I know what it’s like to balance all those things and, and in an even deeper way I care about the job that I’m doing because it impacts my son’s future.”
“So modernizing that [unclaimed property] system. We have a clunky, antiquated website. States like Mississippi, you have an app on a phone that you can download. And if you know a state like Mississippi can do that, I think there’s no reason why we can’t modernize that system, make it a little more user friendly, easier to navigate, and get more of that property back to people.
“I will give [Ball] credit that she was able to pass a bill through the legislature that mandates that you have a course in financial literacy as a requirement for graduation from high school in Kentucky. However, I think that there needs to be some strengthening of that. That credit requirement could be simply a two-hour online course. I think this is a problem that requires our children to be taught at a more in-depth level with respect to how to manage their finances into adulthood.
“I do think that it is something that the state needs to have a tighter control on to ensure that we’re getting that same educational piece, whether you’re in Louisville, or Pike County. We need to really make sure that it works across the board, but ensure that we are hitting certain standardized marks.”