Candidates for treasurer give their views on top issues facing office
by Jack Deming
Oct 25, 2012 | 1168 views | 0 0 comments | 10 10 recommendations | email to a friend | print
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Editor’s note: We asked the four candidates for Vermont State Treasurer a number of questions concerning this year’s race. Two candidates, Democrat Beth Pearce and Republican Wendy Wilton responded. Liberty Union candidate Jessica Diamondstone and Progressive candidate Don Schramm did not respond. This report was compiled by Jack Deming.

1. Some towns in Vermont are still in the process of securing funds from FEMA for repairing damage from Tropical Storm Irene over a year ago. How can we improve the current system to make that money accessible faster in the event of disasters in the future?

2. With our national credit rating dropping, how do we keep Vermont’s own rating strong? Are there specific areas where we can improve?

3. Federal benefit payments are transitioning all electronic payments on March 1, 2013, and the US Department of the Treasury reports that Vermont seniors and other federal benefit recipients are still receiving more than 11,000 paper checks each month and have yet to switch to direct deposit or the Treasury-recommended Direct Express Debit MasterCard card. How do we balance switching payment methods and finances to electronic, while some communities in Vermont don’t even have access to broadband Internet?

4. What is the single most important issue facing Vermont financially, and how would you address it?

Beth Pearce

Pearce is the incumbent state treasurer, appointed by Gov. Peter Shumlin in 2011. Prior to her current position, Pierce served as Vermont deputy treasurer for seven years, as well as deputy treasurer for cash management at the Massachusetts state treasurer’s office from 1999-2003. Pearce earned her Bachelor of Arts from the University of New Hampshire, and resides in Barre.

1. Tropical Storm Irene tested Vermont in ways previously unimaginable. In the hours, days, and months that followed, the treasurer’s office worked collaboratively with municipalities to provide the financial tools to make a swift recovery. Since then, we have continued this good work, launching a number of initiatives to help towns repair.

Immediately after Irene, we gathered local banks and the Vermont Municipal Bond Bank to create a variety of options for municipal relief. We then partnered with administrative officials, members of the Legislature, and the Vermont League of Cities and Towns to create a relief package that gave Vermonters financial resources to repair. This significantly sped up the recovery process. All told, the state advanced $155 million to cash-strapped towns.

We will continue to provide municipal officials with the technical assistance so they can make a full recovery.

2. Vermont has the strongest bond rating in New England. We’ve earned this rating by practicing fiscal prudence. To improve our position, I have partnered with Gov. Shumlin to urge the Legislature to increase stabilization funds, otherwise known as “rainy day funds.” These funds provide a buffer against the winds of financial change. They are an integral part of our total fiscal health.

The nation’s rating agencies cite Vermont’s stabilization funds as one of the major reasons for our triple-A bond rating. In addition to advocating for greater stabilization funds, we will continue our work to meet our actuarial recommended contributions to strengthen Vermont’s pension systems. Likewise, I commit to making sure the state lives within its means while promoting economic development with capital investment improvements. These measures will keep our bond rating strong to the benefit of all Vermonters.

3. The state treasurer’s office serves the retirees of Vermont. We recognize that information technologies play a vital role in administering retiree benefits. That said, I am proud of the work that has been done to improve the transmission of financial data within our state. Every bank has access to electronic payment technologies.

As state treasurer I will continue to work in our office to make sure financial reports and key data are available to our retirees.

4. The greatest potential threat to Vermont’s financial health would be losing our triple-A bond rating. The bond rating is a portrait of our overall financial health. It is a reflection of our economic condition, debt structure, and the management practices of the state. Vermont has the best bond rating in New England; this is essential to our total fiscal health.

Vermont’s excellent financial health is analogous to a consumer who builds a strong credit score through many years of financial discipline. Imagine a home loan: If you make all of your payments on time, your credit score goes up. Good credit allows you to refinance at lower rates, saving valuable dollars; it also opens the door to a variety of services that will strengthen your bottom line.

The higher a consumer’s credit score, the better their access to opportunity. The same is true of the state and its strong bond rating. We have been able to provide savings based on our good financial health.

Were Vermont’s bond rating compromised, we could lose the ability to fund many of the programs Vermonters rely on. That is why I am dedicated to protecting it with proactive leadership. As your state treasurer, I pledge to work with the Legislature to solidify our financial position by advocating for conservative and affordable debt practices, prudent management of our pension systems, and responsible use of reserves. By doing so, we will enhance our economic vitality to the betterment of all Vermonters.

Wendy Wilton

Wilton is running for the office of treasurer as a Republican. Wilton has served as treasurer for the city of Rutland since 2007, as well as state senator from 2005-2006. Wilton was born in Burlington and graduated from the University of Vermont in 1981 with a bachelor of arts in chemistry.

1. Some Vermont towns sustained damage beyond a reasonable amount to have in reserve, and understandably needed to borrow short-term to bridge the gap between reconstruction needs and FEMA reimbursements. Vermont’s banking community and the Vermont Municipal Bond Bank stepped up to provide this support for our communities. However, I also feel there is a role for the state treasurer to assist local governments strengthen their own reserves so that immediate needs can be met in the short-term until bank funds can be obtained (if needed). Specifically, I am interested in working jointly with municipalities to develop a simple voluntary evaluation process called SAFE-T (Saving, Accounting and Financing for Emergencies Test) so that towns can assess their ability to respond quickly and effectively to such events as Irene, As state treasurer, I can provide support to establish policies that will achieve and maintain financial success. In the aftermath of Irene, Rutland did not need to borrow and could respond immediately to make over $1 million in repairs as we had sufficient working capital--a sharp contrast to the deficit we experienced just a few years before. Our strength as a state is in our communities. Irene showed us that!

2. Vermont’s good credit rating is the result of many years of hard work to reduce the general obligation debt under treasurers Jim Douglas and Jeb Spaulding and the improvements in timely audit completions under auditors Brock and Salmon. My opponent has had the good fortune of inheriting an excellent bond rating. Keeping our good bond rating will be very challenging in the years ahead as the rating agencies will institute tougher criteria for the pension liabilities, economic condition, and other benchmarks. Under current criteria we score well. However, our unfunded liabilities in the pensions are growing, we have structural deficits in our general fund and education fund, our state is aging, and we have limited economic growth. These are challenges we must face head-on to keep our bond rating. My opponents seem largely unconcerned about these issues that lie ahead, whereas I am adamant that if we are transparent about the state’s finances for the lawmakers and the public we will be able to solve these problems together before they affect our ratings. I will work very hard to ensure we do by providing independent leadership and transparency on our finances.

3. Access to broadband has no bearing on this transition. The direct deposit system, whether to a bank account or credit card, is not dependent upon Internet access at home.

4. The most important financial issue facing the state of Vermont is a lack of fiscal transparency. We currently have failing grades in fiscal transparency compared to other states. I will provide Vermonters with regular, timely reporting as I do for Rutland, which has helped us move forward. Unless we change this at the state level we will not be able to overcome our future financial challenges effectively: transparency leads to accountability.

There are several issues that we must solve to ensure our long-term sustainability as a state. First, the Legislature must address the structural deficits predicted for FY 2014: general fund $50-70 million, and $55 million for the education fund. This will be harder next year to balance the budget as the stimulus money is gone and the tobacco settlement money is near completion.

Second, we are highly reliant on federal funding--40% of our revenues are federal dollars. Finally, we must implement pension reforms to set the state employees retirement system and the state teachers retirement systems on the path to solvency.

Without a clear understanding of where we are we cannot hope to consider sound solutions to these challenges. Transparency works!

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