Sec’y Of The Admin’s Disturbing Reaction To Reminder Of State Employees’ 2007 Pension Fix

At a press conference today to announce Gov-Elect Shumlin’s pick for Treasurer, a question was asked about VSEA members’ agreement in 2007 to make changes to the pension system that then-Treasurer Spaulding said "would make the system sustainable." In response to the question, Spaulding grabbed the microphone and said "that was then, this is now."

Ouch! How quickly they forget!

Treasurer announcement color commentary

by: odum

Mon Dec 20, 2010 at 13:34:37 PM EST

I have to say that the choice of Beth Pearce to be the new Treasurer surprised me. I have to say that because I’d never heard of her before the announcement. That’s a pretty pure surprise.

A few takeaways from the press conference. First, Pearce comes off as very likable, affable, and well-spoken. One gets the sense she isn’t completely at home in front of the press yet, but it won’t be long at all before she is. She also made it quite clear that, in her words, she is in this for "the long haul," meaning a run for election in 2012, even if it was clearly not the place to answer the question directly.

odum :: Treasurer announcement color commentary
Pearce was asked by reporters about being a part of closing the gender gap in government, a subject first broached by the media in the context of Shumlin administration appointments at this site last week. Pearce replied that the gap would be closed with "hard work and achievement," which is only something those with the biggest chips on their shoulders should not be able to appreciate.

The other point of interest came when the three at the podium – Pearce, Administration Secretary-in-waiting Spaulding and Governor Elect Shumlin were asked about the ongoing matter of the state’s pension funds and the ongoing financial crisis. Pearce referenced the, as she said, "win-win" deal Spaulding had made with the NEA on teacher’s pensions (which averted a high profile showdown with the Legislature and Governor Douglas, the latter of whom was clearly salivating for such a showdown) and waxed optimistic about finding similar accommodation with the VSEA and the Troopers union.

It was at this point that the easy-going, comfortable and nimble way with reporters Shumlin clearly has come to possess contrasted with the less-polished stylings of outgoing Treasurer Spaulding. Spaulding was well-spoken, but always seemed mildly annoyed with the reporters asking questions. This generated the only, shall we say, non-light-hearted moment of the press conference, when a questioner followed up, wondering if the Pearce could expect particular resistance from VSEA on amending pension arrangements, given that they were likely to feel that they already went through all this just a couple years back.

Spaulding took the mic to respond, and virtually the first words out of his mouth were "that was then, this is now."

Ouch. The emergence of bad cop rhetoric in the room was unexpected and stood in contrast with the other remarks. That may have been the extent of the tense vibe, but unfortunately, it was very much what sound bites are made of.

And in fact, Spaulding is going to have to tread very carefully here. Critics will undoubtedly raise eyebrows questioning the independence of the Treasurer’s office in light of Spaulding’s move a mere one floor upstairs in the Pavilion, his Deputy’s promotion to the top spot (a Deputy who repeatedly referred to the outgoing Treasurer as her "mentor"), and the concurrent announcement that Spaulding’s Deputy would be Michael Clasen, the current Director of Retirement Operations in the Treasurer’s office. One can expect to hear questions as to whether this independent Constitutional office won’t be being run from the Governor’s office a mere flight of stairs away.

But, of course, there’s no command-and-control relationship where everyone’s on the same page. Given that Treasurer Spaulding’s team will essentially remain whole, just spread out between two offices, suggests there will be consensus on matters that cross both office’s agendas. Nobody’s driving anybody else if all look at the issues the same way and come to the same conclusions. Without question, under this schema, the two offices will interact seamlessly and efficiently as never before.

Whether or not that’s a good thing may well depend on whether or not you have a state pension coming under the gun, and how those discussions flesh out.