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Three people are seeking this $124,113-a-year state office, which some want abolished

For years, Republican state Sen. Damon Thayer of Georgetown tried unsuccessfully to get rid of the office of Kentucky treasurer.

“I think it’s pretty difficult to suggest that office provides much value to the taxpayers,” Thayer said in 2014, a year after he became Senate majority floor leader. He blamed the Democratic-controlled House for blocking his legislation.

In 2016, Republicans took control of the state House and Republican Allison Ball in 2015 wrested the office of state treasurer from Democrats for the first time since 1948.

Now, with Republicans in control of the governor’s office, the two legislative chambers and most constitutional offices, Thayer still thinks the treasurer’s office should become history and its duties absorbed into the state Finance and Administration Cabinet in the executive branch.

“It’s still an unnecessary office but I believe Allison Ball has done a wonderful job, making it more relevant to Kentuckians through more transparency and improving financial literacy,” he said.

Allison Ball, Kentucky state treasurer
File photo

Ball, a 37-year-old lawyer from Prestonsburg, said she has no interest in abolishing the office and thinks she has demonstrated how a strong treasurer can reinvigorate the office and make it work for all Kentuckians.

Ball is unopposed in this year’s Republican primary election on May 21 in her bid for a second four-year term. In the general election on Nov. 5, she will face the winner of this spring’s Democratic primary election — either Michael Bowman of Louisville or Josh Mers of Lexington.

Bowman, a branch manager for US Bank in Louisville, and Mers, who owns a small insurance and financial service in Lexington, agree with Ball that the state treasurer’s office should not be eliminated.

“It’s accountable to the people,” said Bowman, 36. “If you moved its duties to the executive branch, it would be accountable to the governor and not to the people.”

“We’ve had some less than desirable treasurers but the office is important,” said Mers, 37.

Duties of the state treasurer, under the law, include heading the state treasury, managing the state’s depository, making records of all monies due and payable to the state, processing warrants from the Finance and Administration Cabinet, making payments on behalf of the state, overseeing unclaimed property and filing an annual report on all state money.

The treasurer also sits on several boards and commissions as an ex officio member, including State Investment Commission, Teachers’ Retirement Systems, Kentucky Lottery Board, Kentucky Higher Education Assistance Authority and Kentucky Lottery Board..

The office has an annual budget of slightly more than $4 million and it has 27 employees.

The position of state treasurer exists in 48 states; it is elected in 36 and appointed in 12. Of the 12 states to appoint state treasurers, the governor is responsible for appointment in eight — Alaska, Georgia, Hawaii, Michigan, Minnesota, Virginia, Montana and New Jersey, while the legislature is responsible in the other four — Maine, Maryland, New Hampshire and Tennessee.

In 2017, state treasurer salaries in the nation ranged from $195,972 in Tennessee to $68,500 in Colorado. Kentucky’s treasurer is paid $124,113 a year.

Kentucky has had a treasurer since it became a state in 1792, but talk about abolishing the office has picked up in recent years. Some candidates even have joined in the chorus of getting rid of it.

Kentucky voters last eliminated a constitutional office in 2000, when they voted to eliminate the office of railroad commissioner.

Here’s a closer look at the Democrats seeking to challenge Ball in the fall.

Michael Bowman.jpg
Michael Bowman, 2019 Democratic candidate for Kentucky treasurer Photo submitted

Michael Bowman

Bowman claims he is the most qualified for the office since he “manages a multimillion-dollar portfolio for US Bank.

He ran unsuccessfully for Louisville Metro Council in 2008 and lost a close race last year for Jefferson County clerk.

He said he is running for state treasurer “to hold a reckless governor accountable.”

As treasurer, Bowman said he would draw public attention to spending in Gov. Matt Bevin ‘s administration, if the Republican is re-elected this year to another four-year term.

“I want to be accountable to the people and not to the governor,” he said.

Bowman’s campaign reported $3,698 in receipts as of April 21.

Josh Mers.jpg
Josh Mers Photo submitted

Josh Mers

Mers said he wants to be “a watchdog” as state treasurer to track where Kentucky’s tax dollars are going.

“Allison Ball has not been that watchdog,” he said. “She has the same ideology as Bevin, speaks out for his causes and I think that is dangerous.”

Mers ran unsuccessfully last year for a state House seat in Fayette County.

He was chairman of Lexington Fairness for five years. He would be the first openly gay constitutional officer in Kentucky. “In some areas of the state, that will be a plus for me,” Mers said. “In some areas, it will be a negative.”

Mers’ campaign reported receipts totaling $21,672 as of April 21.