New treasurer eager to disperse unclaimed funds, wants Legislature to make choice on KPERS

Kansas Treasurer Lynn Rogers is sworn into office Monday in the Statehouse rotunda. (Sherman smith/Kansas Reflector)

TOPEKA — In preparation for his new job as state treasurer, Lynn Rogers searched the office’s database of abandoned bank accounts, wages, stocks and dividends on behalf of his neighbors and family members.

He discovered a half-dozen people he personally knows who had unclaimed property. Rogers’ daughter was among them, with $19 listed under her maiden name through Bed Bath and Beyond.

Oversight of the unclaimed property fund, and alerting Kansans to its existence, is among duties now entrusted to Rogers, who was sworn into office Monday.

“It’s important to help the citizens know what’s going on in state government,” Rogers said. “It’s their money, so how do we return it? I hope we can do a lot of things transparency wise.”

Gov. Laura Kelly appointed Rogers, who served as her lieutenant governor for the past two years, to fill the vacancy left by Republican Jake LaTurner, who was elected to the 2nd District seat in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Kelly said Rogers’ 37 years of experience in agricultural banking, assisting farmers, ranchers and cooperatives with financial planning and investments, qualifies him to lead the office tasked with managing the state’s cash. He spent five years at Citibank in Chicago before moving to Wichita in the 1980s.

Rogers also spent 16 years on a Wichita school board and was a state senator when he joined Kelly’s campaign in 2018.

“That experience over the course of his career afforded him the chance to accumulate the knowledge of all things finance needed to do the job of Kansas treasurer, and to do it well,” Kelly said.

Republicans objected to the Democratic governor’s appointment of Rogers to fill a seat routinely won by Republicans in statewide elections.

“Kansans chose a Republican to serve as their treasurer in 2018, and the office hasn’t been on the ballot since then,” said C.J. Grover, spokesman for the Kansas Republican Party. “By appointing a partisan Democrat, Governor Kelly subverted the will of an overwhelming majority of Kansas voters to pay political favors.”

Rogers is bringing Lucas Peterson, his assistant as lieutenant governor, with him to the treasurer’s office, as well as Lauren Tice Miller, who was the communications director for the past eight years for Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley. The Democrat from Topeka lost his seat in November.

Kyle Freese will leave the governor’s communications team and follow Rogers to the treasurer’s office.

As treasurer, Rogers will be an ally for the governor on the board that oversees the Kansas Public Employees Retirement System. Kelly has proposed unsuccessfully for two years the refinancing of the pension system as a way of managing rapidly escalating costs. Republicans have rejected the plan to turn the next 12 years’ worth of pension payments into a 25-year loan with billions in interest.

Rogers said the Legislature has to decide how to make annual KPERS payments that are set to balloon by $300 million at a time when the pandemic has strained state finances.

“If they don’t want the governor or KPERS to reamortize, then they have to commit to funding the payments that are going to be escalating for the next few years,” Rogers said.

He said it was important for his office to continue promotion of Learning Quest, an investment program to help pay for college, but he hasn’t yet given thought to whether he will personally appear in advertisements.

Every treasurer for the past 20 years has used the commercial spots to boost name recognition ahead of a political campaign. Republicans LaTurner, Ron Estes and Lynn Jenkins used the office as a springboard for their congressional careers.

Before LaTurner, treasurers appeared for no more than 10 seconds during the 30-second Learning Quest videos. LaTurner and his family appeared on screen for the entirety of the videos, which mirrored his actual campaign ads.

Dennis McKinney, a Democrat who was appointed to replace Jenkins as treasurer, featured himself in Learning Quest ads that aired into September of 2010. He lost the race to Estes, who led the charge for a new state law that bans the use of the ads within 60 days of an election.

Rogers said he wants to know what kind of a return the treasurer’s office gets on the investment in Learning Quest ads.

“We haven’t looked into enough of what the advertising does and can do and will do,” he said.