The Treasurer’s Office met tough questions and criticism on Monday over its expansion of College Kick Start despite legislative direction not to do so.
The office sought permission last summer to use College Savings Board money to offer $200 incentives to parents who open college savings accounts for their child. The Interim Finance Committee refused telling the office to bring the proposal back during session with data to support it.
But the treasurer instead got approval from the College Savings Board to use existing funds to start the incentives program. That program, Chief of Staff Grant Hewitt said, offers possible incentives of up to $1,000 per student during five years.
Assembly Ways and Means Chairwoman Maggie Carlton, D-Las Vegas, said the office also was told to bring the incentives program back as an enhancement, but that the office instead included it as an ongoing program.
“What obligation do we have as a legislature to fund items that were specifically not allowed and not approved by the IFC?” Assemblywoman Teresa Benitez Thompson asked Hewitt.
Hewitt told her the College Savings Board has authority to make policy decisions.
“The argument you’re making is you can do whatever you want at any time,” Benitez Thompson said. “That’s a very problematic precedent.”
She said especially problematic is the fact that the treasurer himself is chairman of that board so there is no “arms length” relationship between the office and its oversight board.
Carlton objected to statements made by Treasurer’s Office officials that the committee was “confused, that we were not paying attention and that the Legislature should not be setting policy for the board.”
“Ultimately, you do end up in our Appropriations Act and Authorizations Act and we do get to tell you how to spend the money,” she told Hewitt.
Treasurer Dan Schwartz defended the decision saying the College Savings Board has the authority to set policy and that the money involved isn’t state funds. He told the committee if they want to change that they can but argued that his office and the board were acting within their authority.
He said they can have that discussion if lawmakers want to.
“There won’t be room for discussion in the future,” said Carlton. “We’ll make that abundantly clear.”