Beth Pearce: Candidate For Vermont Treasurer, 2016

Q: Should the work of a State Government be performed by a State Employee?

A: I support state employees and believe that privatization of state services is poor policy. State services provided through privatization frequently cost more money and are often characterized by poor results.  Accountability to citizens can and is often compromised by privatization strategies. Companies emphasize the profit margin for the owners and shareholders.  Employment of a well -trained state workforce, on the other hand, maximizes gains to the taxpayer while providing fully integrated services that are consistent with Vermont values. Public sector employees have a trust and responsibility to Vermont citizens, a history of service delivery and significant expertise. Our policies should respect and support this.



Q: As an elected official, how would you approve the overall safety of state employees?

A: All employees have a right to safe physical working conditions as well as a working environment free from not just from physical violence but intimidation and harassment.  Some jobs have higher levels of stress and PTSD incidence and steps to further address this are needed. Also certain jobs have more risk of external violence and we have an obligation to provide appropriate safeguards and security measures. I would support joint examination of our existing laws, policies and practices for human resources, safety and violence prevention programs, physical plant, and security provisions in a comprehensive manner that would provide concrete recommendations for executive and legislative action. This would build on the work VSEA provided through testimony to the Legislative Child Protection Oversight Committee, the work of the BGS Office of State Security programs, the Public Safety Department, as well as studies completed by Corrections, other departments and the Judiciary.  Any such effort should involve the VSEA and VTA and include an open discussion of ways to support and advance safety measures and the incorporation of annual recommendations for the operating budget (including staffing needs) as well the capital budget.  The review should also address any organizational changes that would facilitate improved security assessment and enhancements.



Q: What is your plan to make the health care system more fair and equitable for working Vermonters?

A: The rising cost of health care is a threat to our long-term economic prosperity and to the quality of life for all Vermonters. While the Treasurer’s Office does not set health care policy, I look forward to analyzing the financial impact of various proposals and assuring that plans promote economic prosperity for the retiree, the taxpayer, and Vermont as a whole.
One the biggest challenges facing Vermont is funding for retirement benefits, including health care. I will continue to stand with our employee groups to assure that we have an equitable solution that safeguards the hard earned benefits that state employees, teachers and other workers across the state have attained. No solution should move forward that could harm retirement and health care security.



Q: Will you support collective bargaining and vote against “Right to Work” legislation in any form?

A: My record as your State Treasurer has been one that supports the collective bargaining process. While I am not a legislator, I would oppose “Right to Work” legislation.



Q: What do you see as the role of State employees and how would you support them in their role?

A: State employees provide essential public services for all citizens. The vast majority of employees also live in Vermont and are taxpayers. They are concerned about their state, their local community, their families and our future. Employees have committed their professional lives to improve that future through public service.

My job as State Treasurer is to protect taxpayer dollars and strengthen our financial future. Retirement security is critical to that effort.  All Vermont citizens are entitled to financial independence and dignity in retirement. Retirement should reward teachers, state, and municipal employees for their long-careers in public service.  It is absolutely necessary that our retirement systems be affordable to both the employee and to the taxpayer. However it is also important to recognize that retirement income is not merely an expense, but is an economic driver.  Retirees with adequate and reliable income buy goods and services that, in turn, create jobs. A review by my office indicates that 75.2 % of retirees in the teacher plan and 79.4% of retirees in the state employee plan continue to reside in Vermont, pay Vermont taxes and contribute to the local economy.

Despite their importance, public retirement plans are under attack across the nation. Arguments have been made to reduce benefits, eliminate benefits altogether or convert to other types of plans that do not provide the same security as our defined benefit plans. I have a strong record of defending defined benefit plans. In repeated testimony to the Legislature and in public presentations, I have demonstrated that defined benefit plans provide needed retirement security and are cost-effective to the taxpayer. I will continue to advocate for that position.
I have also implemented steps to put the retirement plans on an improved financial future. All pension plans across the nation took a big hit with the Great Recession. In Vermont, we have addressed this in a responsible and fair manner. I appreciate the efforts of state employees and teachers to step up to the plate in a collaborative manner to find solutions. We have saved hundreds of millions of dollars in the process while protecting your benefits. I have also made it clear that the Administration and the Legislature have a responsibility to fully fund its share of the pension contributions, even in difficult times. These contributions are an I.O.U for services rendered by employees and they have an obligation to fund them. I am proud that these efforts have contributed to the Legislature fully funding the annual retirement contributions recommended by the State’s actuary. In fact, this year we were able to change the state’s pension statutes so that we can accelerate the contribution payment schedule in the future, saving millions of dollars of interest to the taxpayer, making improvements to the funded status of the plan over time, and providing additional security to retirees.

I will continue to advocate for defined benefit pensions and implement sound pension management practices that are fair to employees and protect your hard earned benefits.



Q: What mechanisms would you put in place to avoid budget shortfalls?

A: I support a budget that provides for economic prosperity for all Vermonters. To accomplish this I recognize that there is a need for comprehensive review of both the budget process and the revenue structure that supports it. It must provide access for services for all Vermonters and provide for dignity for all of our citizens. I would advocate a comprehensive approach to this by the Administration and Legislature in this session. I cannot speak to the specific recommendation until such a process is completed but this clearly needs to be addressed for all of our citizens. Equity for all is the key.

The Treasurer’s Office does not set tax policy but certainly can be a resource to the Administration, Legislature, the Joint Fiscal Office and other participating groups, including the VSEA, in looking at potential outcomes of various approaches and I am committed to developing a fair and equitable budget and tax policy.

The Treasurer’s Office “10% in Vermont” program promotes local investments in support of the state’s budget priorities, while creating jobs and earning a competitive rate of return for the taxpayer. To date we have committed approximately $30 million in investments that have met essential needs in housing, energy, community development, and reducing the cost college education.  I believe we can and should do everything in our power to keep as much of our State’s assets in Vermont as possible, consistent with our fiduciary responsibility to obtain the best return for Vermonters at the lowest possible risk.  The Treasurer’s Office will continue to look for and expand opportunities for local investment. 



Q: What approach would you take to make higher education more affordable for Vermonters?

A: The Treasurer’s Office has been committed to reducing the cost of higher education for Vermonters. As a member of the Board of Directors of the Vermont Student Assistance Corporation (VSAC), I have had the opportunity to assist in financing loan programs and providing oversight to its career and education outreach programs.

My office manages the Higher Education Trust Fund. We recently revised the investment management lineup to reduce costs, directing more income for scholarships. I would be pleased to evaluate new initiatives to generate additional dedicated revenue for this scholarship fund.

Just this month I announced a plan with VSAC to use State Treasury dollars to invest in reducing the borrowing costs for parents and students. We jointly announced a loan program with the lowest borrowing rates in VSAC’s history. This was accomplished through partnership with the Treasurer’s local investment program. While lowering the cost for Vermont families we are able to receive a competitive rate of return for taxpayers- a win/win. We will continue to look for opportunities to use our local investment capacity to improve the lives of Vermonters.



Q: What would you do to ensure the viability of the state college system?

A: In addition to supporting efforts to lower the cost of financing education for students, we need to invest in our colleges and universities. State support of Vermont State Colleges (VSC) is lacking as Vermont ranks 47th nationally in state appropriations per $1,000 of personal income. Investment in the State colleges is essential to Vermont’s future as 65% of Vermonters going to college instate attend VSC. In addition, 83% of VSC graduates live and work in Vermont.
The Treasurer’s Office does not have appropriation authority but has and would support local investment initiatives with the college system.



Q: Do you support a livable wage for Vermonters? If so, what do you think that amount should be?

A: All hard working Vermonters are entitled to a livable wage that supports their families. This is a fundamental issue of equity and dignity for all of our citizens. I would support the Legislature’s effort in this effort and would work to investigate the long-term economic and financial impacts of various proposals.

A related issue is that of retirement security for all Vermonters. A recent AARP study found that 104,000 employees in Vermont do not have access to employer sponsored retirement plans. I currently chair a study committee to look at the issue and develop recommendations for the Legislature.  A recent report from another state noted that “modest increases in net worth among those who (currently) save the least for retirement would greatly improve retirement readiness and reduce government expenditures on public assistance programs.”

A livable wage and adequate income in retirement is the right thing to do and it is also good budgetary and economic policy.



Q: Briefly state why the VSEA should endorse you and describe the type of assistance that you would be seeking from a VSEA endorsement.

A: I am seeking your endorsement for the following reasons:

a)    I am the best qualified candidate for State Treasurer;
b)    I have stood with the VSEA and employee groups to  defend defined benefit pension plans while working to improve their financial condition; and
c)    My approach to public service is one of success though collaboration with employee groups.

With almost 40 years of experience in state and municipal finance, I understand the value of long-term planning, smart investments, and open and transparent government. To me, this is not a 9 to 5 job – it’s a 24/7 commitment to Vermont’s financial future for all of its citizens.  This is my life’s work.

Prior to becoming your State Treasurer, I was the state’s Deputy Treasurer for 7 ½ years, and before that, a Deputy Treasurer in another state.  Over the years I have received national and local recognition for my work and have produced meaningful results to assist citizens.
More than $5 billion of Vermonters’ hard earned tax dollars flow through the Treasurer’s Office each year. This is a great responsibility and demands a professional approach to complex financial issues. My office manages approximately $3.7 billion in pension funds for approximately 50,000 active, vested and retired public employees who are served by our retirement division. Vermont needs a proven leader to watch over these important assets. I have managed billions of dollars though bull and bear markets, through recessions, and periods of national political stress and tragedy. Vermont is faced with an ever-increasing set of challenges at both the state and national level, and I am confident in saying I have both the experience and the skills to meet and overcome them. I remain adamantly committed to a professional, non-partisan approach that serves all Vermonters.

I am committed to public pension plans that provide dignity in retirement. As noted above, I am committed to preserving defined benefit plans and finding ways to make them affordable for all taxpayers, including employees, while keeping our promises to state employees, teachers and municipal employees. I also believe retirement security,  financial independence and dignity should also extend to all Vermonters and committed to leading a project to provide retirement plan alternatives for all Vermonters.

I am also committed to a collaborative process engaging groups representing all of our citizens. We get more done when we work together to find solutions.  If you look at the Treasurer’s Office efforts in various initiatives over the past years, I have demonstrated this in the areas of retirement security, local investments, consumer protection and others. Employee groups are partners in working to find solutions for good government, accountability, transparency and efficiency. I am committed to maintaining and building on that partnership.

I therefore ask for your endorsement of my candidacy for re-election as State treasurer and ask for your support.