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Rhode Island. Treasury Dept. | State Archives Catalog

Name: Rhode Island. Treasury Dept.

Historical Note:

The department of the treasury, long known and still commonly referred to as the office of the general treasurer, is the oldest state government 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.  in the decades between of the 1930s and 1940s, for example, Rhode island state government underwent a series of significant reorganizations. Several of the above functions that had been under Treasury were placed in new divisions under a newly created director, budget and controller, which was 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.

The “treasury department” has remained a separate, independent government office/agency since colonial times.[1] Prior to the unification of the colony in 1663, each of Rhode Island’s four original settlements —Newport, Warwick, Portsmouth, and providence—utilized its own treasurers to keep track of finances, usually as the need arose. for example, a document of march 16-19, 1641[2] called 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.[3] 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. [4] “ (…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.”) [5]

In 1842, the first state constitution was ratified and, with it, the confirmation of duties for the general treasurer previously 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 to one to two years. In 1935, the government enacted a law that involved a major reorganization of state government. This legislation included the centralization of many financial functions formerly performed by sundry boards, commissions and committees in a new treasury department [6] (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.

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 general

A General Treasurer is elected by the people 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.

Treasurer has sole responsibility for protecting the state’s financial assets and strengthening its financial position.[7]


[1] Public Law 1951,ch.2727.

[2] Text III Records of the Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations in New England, (Providence, 1856), Vol. I, pp. 111 - 115. “Two Treasurers that now bee, to examine the Treasurie, and to even the accounts, and then to present them so rectified to the next Generall Court;” this, shall be three weeks from the date hereof.”

[3] Bartlett’s, vol. 1,1636-1663. pp. 192, 197


[5] ”An Act Regulating the Election of General Officers”.  Charters and Legislative Documents Illustrative of Rhode-Island History (Providence: Knowles and Vose, Printers, 1844), p. 24. Taken from Acts and Laws, of His Majesty's Colony of Rhode-Island, and Providence-Plantations, in America. (1730) “The publick Treasurer shall only receive such finds, forfeitures, amercements and taxes, as fall vpon such as are not within the liberties of the three Townes specified in the Charter; and Warwick, that is invested with the like privileges and power; and that the Townes mentioned shall receive and keep safe in their custody all finds, forfeitures and amercements that shall be levied upon the Inhabitants thereof until they be called for by the authority from England; but if vpon our humble petition, they be granted to the Colony, then shall they enjoy them as a helpe in their Government as their custom forever. Moreover, looke what comes into the Publick Treasury by that way, he shall give account.”

[6] Public Law 1939, ch. 660, § 50; Public .Law 1951, ch. 2727, art. 1, § 3; General .Laws. 1956, § 42-10-1.) § 42-10-1 General treasurer – Duties in general. – There shall be a treasury department. The head of the treasury department shall be the general treasurer

[7] Until the creation of the position of Controller, and then, Office of Accounts and Control, the office responsible for issuing orders to the General Treasury, for examining and verifying claims on the state for payment and issuing orders for payment to the General Treasurer was the State Auditor. In 1856, the auditing function was placed with the Treasury department and the office of State Auditor was created. “There shall be an officer of the state treasury, who shall be styled the state auditor”  (Revised Statutes Title IV, Ch. 17, p.58, 1857). Until that time, according to some sources, the auditing functions were distributed among various town committees, and also ad hoc audit committees struck by the General Assembly on an as-needed basis. (Samuel Greene Arnold, History of the state of Rhode Island and Providence plantations, Volume 2 NY. D. Appleton and Co. 1860), Auditor General by 1910. By 1935, it was the Office of Budget and Controller that performed the audit of accounts. A Bureau of Audits was created by the 1935 government reorganization as part of the Office of Budget and Controller. (Public Laws 1935, ch. 2250, § 13; General Laws. 1938, ch. 7, § 55)  Its responsibilities included the inspection of the finances and financial documentation of government departments, and also to inspect the accounts of the General Treasurer’s office. Over the years the State Auditor’s duties have included the examination of all accounts and claims against the state for the payment and that government’s appropriations for meeting payment obligations. And to certify to the General Treasurer the amount due and allowed for each claim and account, and to draw orders on the Treasury for all state payments of money, or to disallow claims, and to keep records of these transactions, including the amount, the nature of the claim, the person, and the date. The auditor was also responsible for insuring that all balances due to the State Treasury are paid. The State Auditor’s responsibilities extended to ensuring accountability for moneys involving the state’s courts. Finally, the State Auditor was empowered to review all records, documents, and evidence pertaining to expenditures and disbursements. Finally, the state auditor ‘s responsibilities included the management of the government’s deposits in the state’s banks.

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