The Department of the Treasury, long known and still commonly referred to as the Office of the General Treasurer, is the state government’s oldest financial entity. Many financial functions now performed by various agencies and divisions of government - treasury, budget, accounting and controls, purchasing, and auditing - were in the past performed by the Treasury department. The department has remained a separate, independent government office/agency since colonial times.
Prior to their unification in the 1640s, Rhode Island’s four original settlements —Newport, Warwick, Portsmouth, and Providence— each had its own treasurer to keep track of finances, usually as the need arose. For example, General Assembly document of March 16-19, 1641called for two treasurers to oversee the accounts and report to the General Court, and also stipulated that the individual towns’ treasurers each needed to keep accounts and “towne books”. Explicit mention of officers for the “whole colonie” appears in the 1647 Patent for Providence Plantations. This document variously refers to the office of “Treasurer” and “Publick Treasurer,” and describes the duties of the office.
The Royal Charter of 1663 does not mention the General Treasurer, but the colony passed a law in March of that year specifically affirming the establishment of the office along with that of governor, lieutenant governor, and other offices for the colony.“ (…There shall be chosen and elected, one general recorder, who shall be the secretary of the colony, one sheriff, who shall have the care and custody of his majesty’s goal in Newport, one general attorney, and one general treasurer; for the better regulating and managing the affairs of government.”)
In 1842, the first state constitution was ratified and, with it, confirmation of the duties for the General Treasurer as established in 1663; the length of term for the office was set at one year. In 1912, however, the general officers’ terms, including the General Treasurer’s term of office, were increased from one to two years. In the decades between the 1930s and 1940s, Rhode Island state government underwent a series of significant reorganizations. In 1935, the government enacted a law that involved a major reorganization of state government. This legislation included the centralization in a new treasury department of many financial functions formerly performed by sundry boards, commissions and committees (PL 2250, sec. 40-42, May session 1935.) The new department, headed by the general treasurer, was responsible for the receipt of state revenues assessed by the department of taxation and regulation, and other collections; the disbursement of funds authorized by the director, budget and controller, and, finally, the custody of all state funds. Several of the above functions that had been under Treasury were soon placed in new divisions under a newly created director, budget and controller, which were soon absorbed into the short-lived Department of Finance from 1939 to 1950. In 1951 many of these financial functions - budgeting, accounts and controls, purchasing, and auditing - were centralized in the newly established Department of Administration.
Today, besides heading the Treasury department, the general treasurer also serves as a member of several other bodies, including the Rhode island state employee retirement board, the housing and mortgage finance corporation, the higher education assistance authority, the public finance management board, and refunding bond authority.
The people of Rhode Island elect a General Treasurer every four years. The Treasury Department consists of the following divisions: Business Operations; Crime Victim Compensation; Employees’ Retirement System of Rhode Island; Finance and Investments including Cash Management, Debt Management, and Funds Operations Management; and Unclaimed Property. The annual budget for the General Treasurer’s office is approximately 28 million. Finance and Investments manages approximately $6.3 billion, including $300 million in cash and $6 billion in pensions. The General Treasurer serves as Chair on various boards and commissions such as the RI State Employees’ Retirement Board; RI Refunding Board Authority; and RI Public Finance Management Board. He also serves as a Commissioner of the RI Housing and Mortgage Finance Corporation and a Director on the Rhode Island Higher Education Assistance Authority.
Scope and Contents: This series consist of forty deeds and land evidence documents recording land transactions spanning the period 1700-1895. These documents were drawn up by town clerks and filed with the General Treasurer.