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Treasurer Michael Fitzgerald leaves office after 40 years as Iowa’s chief banker
Democrat points to College Savings, IPERS, Treasure Hunt as points of pride
DES MOINES — After 40 years as the steward of Iowa’s finances and investments, Michael Fitzgerald is leaving behind a state treasurer’s office that has seen a lot of change under his tenure.
As Iowa’s state treasurer, Fitzgerald, 71, was one of three remaining statewide elected Democrats and was defeated in the November election by Iowa Sen. Roby Smith, a Republican, of Davenport.
Fitzgerald’s 10 terms in office made him the longest-serving state treasurer in U.S. history. Smith will officially take over the office Sunday.
Fitzgerald said he’s proud of new programs started since he’s assumed office, including College Savings Iowa, IAble, and the Great Iowa Treasure Hunt, and he said he hopes those continue after the transition to the new treasurer.
In addition to those specific programs, the treasurer is responsible for maintaining the state’s investments and serves as the state’s elected banker.
“I think that what I and basically the staff of the treasurer's office have done has been a great accomplishment,” Fitzgerald said. “We’ve made millions of dollars for the state, never lost a penny.”
College Savings Iowa
College Savings Iowa is Iowa’s 529 tax-advantaged college savings system, which allows Iowans to save money for college tuition for their child or a child in their life.
College Savings Iowa was a contention in the campaign for treasurer, with Smith pointing out Morningstar, a Chicago-based financial services firm, had recently downgraded the fund to “neutral” from a “bronze” rating. On Nov. 2, the fund was upgraded again to a “bronze” rating.
Two programs nationally have gold ratings, 12 have silver ratings, 20 have bronze, 16 have neutral, and four have negative ratings.
“It continues to perform, and the best evidence I have is all the letters and emails I’ve gotten over the years from people thanking me for College Savings Iowa,” Fitzgerald said. “How parents and grandparents have been able to send their kids to college, or maybe pay for one year of their college education.”
The Iowa Public Employees' Retirement System, the $40 billion pension fund for state employees known as IPERS, is another point of pride, Fitzgerald said.
The state treasurer is the custodian of IPERS and sits on the pension fund’s board.
Fitzgerald said IPERS is “rock solid” and well situated for the future. Its funding ratio, or ability to pay promised benefits, is at nearly 90 percent, according to IPERS’ most recent annual summary.
“IPERS has really helped public employees all over the state of Iowa,” he said. “People of every county benefit from it … so it’s been a big success.”
Fitzgerald opposed a measure from a Republican lawmaker in 2017 to shift IPERS to a system similar to a private 401(k) that does not guarantee benefits.
Fitzgerald said he’s concerned about seeing those efforts appear again, but Smith, who chaired the State Government Committee at the time and blocked the legislation, said he does not advocate making changes to the system.
“No one is out there saying to get rid of it in the sense of moving it through the Legislature,” Smith said during an Iowa PBS forum before the election. “Promises made, promises kept. We're going to keep a look on IPERS, we're going to protect it.”
Great Iowa Treasure Hunt
Fitzgerald said he’s proud of establishing the Great Iowa Treasure Hunt, a program that seeks to connect unclaimed property, which is turned over to the department every year, with its owners.
Banks and businesses turn over property such as funds in inactive checking and savings accounts, uncashed checks, lost stocks and bonds and items from abandoned safety deposit boxes when they cannot get in touch with the rightful owner.
When Fitzgerald took office in 1983, the law requiring unclaimed property to be returned to the treasurer’s office was on the books, but he said businesses and banks didn’t know much about it.
Through the “Great Iowa Treasure Hunt,” Fitzgerald’s office maintains a list of unclaimed property, allowing people to search for property that may belong to them.
Since he took office, the program has returned more than $300 million to claimants. In the 2022 fiscal year, the program returned more than $24 million to 25,000 people and organizations, according to Fitzgerald’s office.
“People have gotten money back, so that’s how it’s changed, and I think people look for it every year at the State Fair, and they expect it,” he said.
Fitzgerald said he’s still not sure what his work will look like outside the treasurer’s office. He said he may find other work, work part-time, or find other ways to serve the community.
“I’m grateful for what Iowans have done for me, and if there’s a way I can continue to give back, I want to do that.”