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Talking finance

Beth Pearce makes first bid for Treasurer’s office she’s held since January 2011

BRATTLEBORO—Beth Pearce, the incumbent Democratic candidate for state treasurer, has served in the treasurer’s office over seven years.

Pearce stepped into the role of state treasurer in January 2011 when her predecessor, Jeb Spaulding, was appointed Secretary of Administration for Gov. Peter Shumlin.

This year, she tackles her first campaign.

Surprisingly, she has enjoyed the run for office. Campaigning gives her the opportunity to talk to people, understand their experiences and perspectives, Pearce said.

“I love to talk finance,” said Pearce. “You don’t want me building a bridge.”

But if a community needs cash in times of need, like after 2011’s Tropical Storm Irene, she is the one to call.

Pearce said her office would continue to help towns through maintaining strong cash reserves and keeping the state in a good financial position.

She views the Treasurer office’s role as the state’s banker and investment officer. About $5 billion flows through the office, said Pearce.

The office also manages the state’s short-term investments and interim trusts like funds from a settlement the state won against tobacco companies.

The office provides the technical and staff support to the companies that manage the state’s $3.4 billion worth of pension funds.

“It’s a very important part of our responsibility,” she said.

Pearce has been in finance realm for 35 years. She served as Vermont’s deputy treasurer for 7 1/2 years before replacing Spaulding. She also served as deputy treasurer in Massachusetts, and worked at the municipal level in New York and Connecticut.

“This is what I do for a living,” said Pearce.

Pearce said she understands how her work affects people. She wanted her grandkids to have good lives.

Moving forward, Pearce wants to strengthen the state’s “rainy day fund.”

She hopes to work with the Legislature to continue to manage its pension funds. A few years ago, she said, the state restructured its funds and saved the taxpayers about $21 million a year. But the state must continue to fund the pensions appropriately.

According to Pearce, Vermont has the best credit rating of all the New England states, despite the Great Recession and the enormous expenses from Irene.

Vermont has a AAA rating from Moody’s, said Pearce. Standard and Poor’s just upgraded the state from AA stable to an AA positive. If the state continues to remain financially healthy, it could receive a triple-A from Standard and Poor’s too. That would be a “world class” rating for the state.

Keeping the interest rates low

Although the treasurer’s office does not deal with sexy topics — unfunded liability anyone? — Pearce takes her role in the state’s fiscal health from one end of the spreadsheet to the other.

Over time, negotiating lower interest rates on bonds translates into lower taxes for Vermonters, said Pearce.

The treasurer’s office just negotiated $93 million in bonds for state projects at “record low” interest rates, said Pearce. The office also bonded $27 million in citizens’ bonds for Vermonters.

To invest in a bond, said Pearce, the investor buys in $5,000 increments. Citizens’ bonds are in $1,000 increments allowing more Vermonters to invest, she said.

In July, said Pearce, the state agreed to a $10 million bond for bridge repairs. This $10 million, however, leveraged $51 million in federal funds.

After Irene, the state’s strong bond rating allowed the treasurer’s office to help towns by advancing them a combined $155 million in payments they would normally receive from the state later in the year. This allowed communities to access capital while waiting on monies due from insurance policies and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), said Pearce.

Pearce said she also called in local banks after Irene and asked how they could help with providing capital for Irene recovery. The banks agreed to low interest rates on the lines of credit they offered.

The bond rating saves the state money. Based on the state’s good credit, Pearce helped refinance some of the state’s debt saving about $5.5 million, she said.

The bond rating impacts every person and business in Vermont, Pearce stressed.

Pearce ultimately wants the treasurer’s office to help all Vermonters realize economic prosperity.

Pearce said she has focused on economic development for the state and financial literacy for its residents. The treasurer’s office offers financial literacy programs for “kindergarden through the golden years,” said Pearce.

She said she wants to help Vermonters have good financial practices which promote an easier financial life and allows them to buy goods and services. Goods and services create jobs, said Pearce.

Pearce hopes to promote economic development through private organizations and investments. If the state continues its strong fiduciary practices, in part through the treasurer’s office, then this will create opportunities for private organizations to engage in economic development.

For example, Pearce said she was involved in the early stages of the PACE program (Property Assessed Clean Energy) after being asked by proponents to weigh in. Pearce said she liked the program because it assisted homeowners in accessing clean energy technology and could potentially save them money.

Pearce said she looked at the program and recommended ways to reduce financial risk and maximize financial opportunities. She also explained the financing aspects of the program to municipalities.

A hot campaign

The Treasurer’s race has turned contentious at times.

Opponent Wendy Wilton’s campaign turned personal against Pearce. In Pearce’s opinion, Vermonters don’t want to listen to attacks. Instead, they want to hear about issues.

“The voters expect the best of us,” said Pearce.

In news reports and at press conferences, the atmosphere has become charged.

Pearce, in response to some of Wilton’s comments, said she does not want to wield an ideological club over the treasurer’s office. Instead of partisanship, the office needs professionalism, she said.

Pearce said she loves that the Vermont government works together.

“Vermont is home,” she said. “I’m staying here.”

Pearce said the money flowing through the treasurer’s office comes mostly from taxpayers. She believes she has an obligation to taxpayers to manage their money responsibly.

“I’m about looking [at the numbers] as the fiduciary, but recognize it impacts people,” Pearce said.

The money she is charged with provides essential services of the government and “it impacts people’s lives.”

Pearce describes herself as someone with a professional, financial skill set with Vermont values.

Pearce said she chooses to live in Vermont because she loves its values and government which differs from the partisanship of Washington D.C.

“I love...the natural beauty and citizens,” she said. “I’m a Vermonter.”

Pearce said she takes offense at Wilton’s comments about not being a Vermonter because she wasn’t born here or own her own home.

“Both of those [comments] sell Vermonters short,” said Pearce.

People make choices and participate in public service in multiple ways, said Pearce. Those choices should not be diminished.

She feels Wilton’s comments disenfranchise many Vermonters.

“The rest of my life this is home,” said Pearce. She added she hoped Vermonters would help her stay by supporting her as treasurer.

The treasurer’s office is about prosperity for all citizens from all walks of life and engaging citizens, said Pearce.

“The biggest danger we [Vermont] have is partisanship,” said Pearce.

She feels she differs from Wilton in this respect.

Pearce is running on the Democratic ticket. She said she gravitates to Democratic party’s ideals. As a treasurer, however, she feels it’s her fiduciary responsibility to look objectively at the numbers and manage the state’s money to the benefit of all.

To learn more about Pearce, visit www.bethpearce.com.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #176 (Wednesday, October 31, 2012).

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