Treasurer Lynn Rogers appears for a recording of the Kansas Reflector podcast to make the case for a full-term. He hopes to hang onto the job by defeating Republican state Rep. Steven Johnson, a farmer from Assaria, in the November election. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)
TOPEKA — State Treasurer Lynn Rogers has resisted the temptation to elevate his political profile through public-funded TV advertisements for a college savings plan.
His predecessors — three Republicans and a Democrat — took advantage of the opportunity to appear on screen, ostensibly to promote the Learning Quest program in TV spots that increasingly looked like campaign ads. Along the way, Republicans Lynn Jenkins, Ron Estes and Jake LaTurner used the office as a springboard to successful congressional races.
Rogers, a Democrat who says he isn’t interested in running for Congress, has managed to grow the college savings plan to $8.5 billion and 270,000 accounts in Kansas by focusing on engagement with school counselors and parental groups. The program provides parents with annual tax deductions while investing in higher education for their children. The money can be used for vocational or tech schools in addition to a four-year college.
“I think a lot of those ads, you know, they focused more on the treasurer and not on the program itself — on Learning Quest, and helping people understand it,” Rogers said on the Kansas Reflector podcast. “I’ve been amazed that we’ve had about a 33% increase in the number of accounts requested. And I think what’s interesting on that is I think it’s because people understand what it can do for them, not what it can do for the treasurer.”
Rogers hopes to hang onto his job as state treasurer by defeating Republican state Rep. Steven Johnson, a farmer from Assaria, in the November election.
Rogers was an agriculture banker for 30 years and served on a Wichita school board before winning a 2016 election to the state Senate. Two years later, then-state Sen. Laura Kelly asked him to be her running mate when she ran for governor. As her lieutenant governor, Rogers also oversaw the newly formed Office of Rural Prosperity.
Kelly appointed Rogers to the state treasurer position after LaTurner won election to Congress in 2020.
When he arrived, Rogers said, he found out-of-date databases and federal regulations that hadn’t been implemented. The state was on the verge of losing federal disability savings accounts, he said.
“This office has primarily been used to run for Congress the last few treasurers, and I think Kansans deserve better,” Rogers said.
The duties of the office, as Rogers outlined them, include serving as the state banker, watching over funds as they come and go from state agencies, making sure bonds are issued for cities, counties and schools, making loans, serving on the board of the state pension system, and advising the Legislature and governor.
Rogers said the treasurer’s office has the ability to help Kansans in their day-to-day lives by providing economic recovery loans, administering the college savings plans, and returning unclaimed property.
The economic recovery programs are structured to provide capital to banking institutions, which then offer loans at reduced rates and assume the risk of default. The loans can help farmers or recovery from natural disasters.
After gas prices skyrocketed during the deep freeze in February 2021, the office loaned $80 million in two weeks to cities and municipalities to help them pay their heating and electric bills. Rogers said many of those entities will be paying on the loans for 10 years, limiting their capacity for economic development or improvements.
He said the rise in gas prices appeared to be obvious price gouging.
“We’ve seen nothing from the attorney general on that,” Rogers said. “Supposedly he hired a law firm to investigate. But they’ve not approached us or, as far as I know, have not talked to anybody.”
The treasurer’s office manages an unclaimed property fund that holds about $400 million in assets. They include bank accounts, stocks and bounds, rebates, utility deposits, final paychecks that were never delivered, and safe deposit boxes. Anyone can search the office’s online database for property.
Rogers said he added staff to help connected Kansans with their cash. In addition to individuals, the office has found assets for nonprofits, churches, businesses, municipalities and churches.
In two years, the office has returned $100,000 to school districts, $40,000 to Wichita State University, $25,000 to Kansas State University, and $5 million to a Johnson County business.
They also have discovered 100 military medals, including Purple Hearts from World War II. Rogers said his office is working with VFW and American Legion posts to return them to families.
Rogers said he would like to implement a “work and save” program developed by the AARP and implemented by 14 other states. The idea is to administer a retirement savings plan for workers whose companies don’t offer one.
Only 45% of Kansans have retirement savings, Rogers said, and those who do average just $20,000 in savings.
“We’re sitting on a potential crisis, not too many years away, where people aren’t going to have money when they retire, or when they’re of the age where they can’t work any longer,” Rogers said.
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