When casting a vote for State Treasurer on Election Day, Vermonters should first consider what qualities, skills and background are most important in the candidates. The position, after all, has three primary responsibilities: managing the state’s bonds, managing the state’s pension funds, and handling a host of cash management tasks.
Sounds boring to most of us, which is one of the reasons that this race is rarely controversial.
That Republican candidate Wendy Wilton has chosen to attack her opponent, Democrat Beth Pearce, on issues of questionable merit has made the race one of the more unseemly for this office in memory and may hurt Wilton more than she thinks.
But before going there, let’s look at what the candidates hope to accomplish if elected.
Democrat Pearce lays it out simply: Her three top priorities, she stated matter-of-factly, would be to maintain the state’s excellent bond rating, work to reduce the unfunded liabilities of the state’s pension funds, and institute financial literacy programs so Vermonters can learn good financial management practices so they know how to plan for their own retirement.
Pearce, 59, has nearly 35 years of experience in government finance at the state and local levels. She was deputy treasurer of the state under former State Treasurer Jeb Spaulding for seven years — essential training for the position.
Maintaining the state’s high bond rating, Pearce said, is one of the most important functions of the state treasurer’s office simply because an excellent rating drives down borrowing costs for towns. While refinancing some older bonds recently, Pearce told the Independent(see story Page 1), she was able to save $5.4 million thanks to the state’s good ratings. That’s a small, simple thing, but it’s real money — and that’s just one example of hundreds of routine decisions that make a big difference.
Similarly, finding solutions that keep the state’s pension funds solvent is a critical task the state treasurer must understand thoroughly — and Pearce does. She explains the problem in detail and provides a clear and logical path forward. Her common-sens approach instills confidence in her skill, as well as her sense of fairness and non-political approach.
As the challenger, Republican Wilton’s campaign has been the polar opposite. She has made headlines around the state by allowing her campaign to be bankrolled by Vermonters First, a conservative Political Action Committee. That campaign has sent out tons of direct mail literature to alarm Vermonters about issues of which the state treasurer’s office has no sway, such as health care reform, claiming that Wilton “will be the commonsense voice of change that we need in Montpelier.”
That is so much garbage. The treasurer’s voice is simply not one that will change the direction the state takes on health care reform. Nor should it. But rather than disavow this type of literature and campaign advertising, Wilton has embraced it and tried to blur the lines between the reality of the treasurer’s role and some mythical “change agent” in the form of a super-charged state treasurer.
It’s hype that is beyond the pale.
She has also seen a bit of blowback from those in Rutland concerning the claim that she saved the city from insolvency and put it on the path to recovery. Again, it’s a bit of a stretch. The mayor and city council set the direction for the city. Wilton was the person in charge as city treasurer who carried out their directions. She gets praise for carrying out her role well, but most of what she did was what any town or city treasurer would do.
Such campaign exaggerations are troubling. What Vermont definitely does not need is a partisan state treasurer with a bit of an ego trying to change state policy. It’s the job of the governor and the Legislature to set policy. The treasurer’s job is to mind the store, and be sure everything that office can do in terms of managing bonds, pensions and a host of other cash management issues is done well. Those tasks, however, have seldom been mentioned in Wilton’s campaign.
Democrat Pearce knows what’s at stake in the state treasurer’s office, has more than three decades of experience in state and local finance, and will attend to the important matters at hand with a matter-of-fact, no-nonsense approach. Beth Pearce is the right fit as Vermont’s State Treasurer.