MANCHESTER - The race for Vermont State Treasurer is still up for grabs between Republican hopeful Wendy Wilton and current Treasurer Beth Pearce.
Pearce was appointed as Vermont State Treasurer in January of 2011 by Governor Peter Shumlin following the appointment of then Treasurer Jeb Spaulding to the post of secretary of administration.
Before becoming Treasurer, Pearce was deputy treasurer for seven years and has 35 years of experience in government finance at both the State and local levels. Prior to joining the Vermont State Treasurer's Office, she served as Deputy Treasurer for Cash Management at the Massachusetts State Treasurer's Office, Deputy Comptroller for the Town of Greenburgh, N.Y., and as the Accounting Manager and Financial Operations Manager for the Town of West Hartford, Conn.
Among Pearce's issues that she hopes to address includes Hurricane Irene recovery, energy efficiency and renewables, local investments first, state credit card, opening state bonds to local small investors, retirement security, promote fiscal literacy, and protecting taxpayer dollars.
Pearce stopped by the Manchester Journal earlier this month to discuss some of these issues as she runs for the position of treasurer.
"For me the treasurer's office is about a professional approach," said Pearce. "You need to take a look at the numbers, take a look at the impacts, and make sound decisions for the taxpayers. We have the highest state bond rating in New England and that does a lot for Vermont."
Pearce said her office has done well controlling debt and believes that the progress she has made has been beneficial to the state.
"We took the state's debt, refinanced it, and saved the taxpayers $5.4 million," she said.
Pearce continued to say, "We need to live within our means and one of the things we did is try to stretch our dollars further. One of the things that we did last year in the legislature is bring to them some residual amounts in old projects, which had never been done before. They were able to apply $4.3 million of old project dollars to new capital projects. This year we have identified the potential of up to $9 million more of that. That is stretching your dollars."
Pearce said that she has a passion for this stuff that goes beyond furthering her career.
"I am a professional, this is what I do for a living," she said. "It's been my career and it's something I feel very passionate about. I love numbers and I love working with numbers. I also think I understand how those numbers impact peoples lives....Last year I was listed in 'Bond Buyer' as one of 10 trail-blazing women in public finance and I am very proud of that. We do good work. I am about excellence."
Wendy Wilton, her opponent and the present treasurer of Rutland, expressed a different take during a recent interview at The Journal.
"I'm very concerned about the fiscal future of the state, and that's where the leadership comes in to play. I think Beth has been a good caretaker, but that's her limit. She has the ability to keep things rolling with the good bond ratings that we have had for years. Technically she's able to invest the states money adequately and I don't see where I'm going to do any worse of a job or a better job maybe then she is on those things," said Wilton. "She doesn't have the independence from the administration to be able to stand up when she may need to and she doesn't have the leadership quality to look ahead at the horizon of the state and say 'there is some trouble ahead, some challenges, and maybe some opportunities, how do I work with the legislature and the administration to make sure that we keep all of these things in mind.'"
Wilton, a former state Senator from 2005 to 2006, is a former University of Vermont graduate who has been the treasurer for the City of Rutland since 2007. Wilton emphasized that she produced the first 'clean' audit for Rutland in 32 years and led Rutland from a $5 million deficit to a $3.8 million positive fund balance.
Wilton has some concerns as she runs for State Treasurer. They include $3 billion in unfunded liabilities for the state employees' and teachers' retirement funds, current unfunded liabilities are nearly $5,000 for each Vermonter and $10,000 for each working Vermonter, a systemic budget deficit and over-reliance on federal funding, and the future of the state's bond ratings due to excessive long term liabilities.
Wilton believes her background in banking and her experience as treasurer of Rutland makes her the better candidate.
"I worked in banking for a very long time and in a government sense treasury operations are very much like running a bank. Certainly that has been true for the City of Rutland, my experience in banking has been wonderful there. I use everything I learned in banking from the lending side at the retail side every day of my job."
The last major issue Wilton spoke of was the teachers retirement fund.
"The bigger problem is the teachers retirement fund, it is 65 percent funded. That is horrible," she said. "On top of that, the principle balance that exists in that fund today is paying different things, it is paying our the pension and the healthcare for the teachers."
When asked how to fix the problem Wilton said, "The first step I would recommend is that the retiree healthcare component must come out of the teachers retirement fund, come out meaning you don't take the money out anymore you find another funding source for it."
Recent polls have indicated this race to be closer than some of the other statewide contests. Election Day is Nov. 6.