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Iowa state treasurer candidates disagree on getting involved in policy debates

081122-michael-fitzgerald
Katarina Sostaric
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IPR News
State Treasurer Michael Fitzgerald is facing a challenge from Republican State Sen. Roby Smith.

Candidates running for state treasurer of Iowa disagreed Friday on how much the state treasurer should try to get involved in state and federal policy matters.

Republican State Senator Roby Smith said he would speak up more about policy if he’s elected state treasurer of Iowa this fall. He criticized his Democratic opponent, Treasurer Michael Fitzgerald, for not publicly supporting GOP-backed tax cuts.

Fitzgerald said he is focused on the treasurer’s office mission of keeping state money safe.

“If the legislators and governor want to increase taxes or decrease taxes, that’s their decision,” Fitzgerald said. “It’s not something that directly affects programs that we run in the state treasurer’s office, like unclaimed property, or College Savings Iowa, or IAble … that’s the things we register and support. And it’s proven very successful.”

Fitzgerald also said the U.S. Treasury sets federal policy regardless of what state treasurers say.

Smith said he would’ve opposed a Biden administration proposal last year that would’ve directed the IRS to collect additional information from bank accounts with more than $600 in transactions per year.

“I don’t take this defeatist attitude that a state treasurer can’t affect anything on the federal level,” Smith said. “You have a voice. You have a megaphone. You have the pulpit to do that. You chose not to. I will stand up to the IRS. I will stand up and protect taxpayers.”

2022 state treasurer candidate Roby Smith poses for a portrait.
Steve Alexander
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2022 state treasurer candidate Roby Smith poses for a portrait.

During a Friday taping of Iowa Press on Iowa PBS, the candidates also discussed management of the College Savings Iowa 529 Plan, which was started by Fitzgerald.

Smith said an investment rating agency gave Iowa’s 529 plan a D grade, and he criticized Fitzgerald for his management of the program.

Fitzgerald said that was due to a misunderstanding about different investing options in Iowa’s 529 Plan, and he expects to see Iowa’s grade go up soon.

Smith and Fitzgerald agreed on wanting to protect IPERS, the public employees’ pension fund.

Smith said as chair of the Senate State Government Committee, he didn’t advance a bill that would’ve changed IPERS from a defined benefit pension plan.

“We’re going to protect it,” Smith said.

Fitzgerald said he has defended IPERS against attempts to change it.

“I advocated strongly for it before the last election,” Fitzgerald said.

Fitzgerald said he wants to continue pushing for a state-run retirement plan for Iowans who don’t have a retirement plan through their employer.

Smith didn’t commit to supporting that idea. He said Republican lawmakers helped older Iowans by ending taxes on retirement income, which takes effect January 1.

Early voting beings October 19, and Election Day is November 8.

Katarina Sostaric is IPR's State Government Reporter