Vt. treasurer hopefuls trade jabs
By David Taube
VERMONT PRESS BUREAU | October 23,2012
MONTPELIER — In an attempt to clear up what she says is misleading information put forth by her Republican challenger in the race for Vermont State Treasurer, the incumbent Beth Pearce symbolically took off her gloves Monday.
As she has previously done on multiple occasions, Pearce pointed out that a recent report from the U.S. Public Interest Research Group, which was critical of her office’s “transparency,” refers instead to the state Department of Finance and Management, not the treasurer’s office. She defended herself against the criticism again Monday while shaking the report in the air during a news conference.
Pearce referred to challenger Wendy Wilton’s use of the report as “just plain wrong.” Pearce also said that the city of Rutland, where Wilton has been treasurer since 2007, has not been achieving certain standards that the state has, such as funding its actuarial level for worker pensions.
Pearce also said her opponent has flip-flopped on the debate surrounding single-payer health care, though she added that the treasurer’s office shouldn’t be partisan in any event.
“There have been a lot of personal attacks and misinformation out there. I wanted to take the opportunity to set the record straight,” Pearce said.
Wilton countered that statements made by her campaign were not attacks and that Vermonters are interested in the transparency issue as a whole.
The USPIRG report, titled “Following the Money 2012,” gave Vermont a “D-minus” in terms of online access to data on government spending.
Pearce’s campaign said it has issued multiple statements to clarify that the report does not refer to the treasurer’s office. Pearce’s campaign manager, Ryan Emerson, said recent ads by Wilton still attempt to make an issue of the report.
Pearce also said the city of Rutland has been on a bond monitoring list off and on.
Vermont Municipal Bond Bank Executive Director Robert Giroux confirmed that Rutland has been on the list for a number of years. He added the state currently has 10 municipalities on the list.
Giroux said specific municipalities are not adversely affected if they’re on the list. The Bond Bank pools money for municipal and school district projects across the state, and the list is informational for bond ratings agencies.
Pearce also said that according to auditors, Rutland City’s financial statements have significant weaknesses and deficiencies. Pearce cited one audit that said the city has several issues, from establishing procedures for tracking historical capital assets to reporting current capital expenditures to inadequate safeguarding of city assets.
Wilton said Rutland has had 32 years worth of adverse audits and that although she helped correct some of the problems, it’s reasonable to expect there’s still a need to fix other remaining matters.
The Wilton campaign has sought to make transparency a key issue in the race for state treasurer. But Pearce also said Monday that the Rutland City website also fails to provide important information to citizens, such as data on investment performance and expenses.
Wilton conceded she could have posted that information on the website, though she said the information has been made public at the city’s pension board meetings.
Pearce, the Democratic candidate who was appointed to the treasurer’s job when her predecessor Jeb Spaulding was named Secretary of Administration in 2010, also provided media quotes attributed to Wilton, reiterating that her opponent has changed her stance on health care.
One quote attributed to Wilton by VTDigger.org on Oct. 21, 2011, said, “People are willingly and knowingly causing health problems. Why do I have to pay for that?”
In an interview on Vermont Public Radio last Thursday, however, Wilton said, “I’ve tried very hard to stay away from policy issues. Regarding health care, I think that the role of the treasurer is not to get onboard with one side or another of this debate.”
“This is partisan politics at its worst,” Pearce said Monday. “And it puts the person that’s in the treasurer’s office at a disadvantage in terms of objective analysis of the facts.”
Wilton said her health care comments were taken out of context, misconstrued or misunderstood. She said she has maintained that health care policy decision-making is the exclusive right and responsibility of the Legislature and the governor.
The campaign for treasurer has become one of the more contentious ones in the current election cycle.
The treasurer’s office under Pearce’s watch was recently reported to have authorized 9,000 hours of personnel overtime over a three-year period. Wilton had filed public records requests about the matter. Pearce, in turn, has responded that overall personnel costs during her tenure as treasurer have declined from fiscal 2010 to 2012.
Emerson, the campaign manager for the incumbent, said before the press conference yesterday that the campaign had been planning the press event for about a week. But he added that remarks made during a radio debate between Pearce and Wilton on The Mark Johnson Show on WDEV Radio Monday morning only contributed to the need for the news conference.
Pearce Monday also announced a plan for new TV advertising, saying that it was needed to counter the spending on Wilton’s behalf by a well-heeled supporter.
“We’re competing with a super PAC with an ... extremist position that is frankly trying to buy Vermont elections. We’re not going to be able to compete with that dollar for dollar, we know that,” Pearce said.
“Frankly the treasurer’s office is not the place for an extremist view,” Pearce said. “The treasurer’s office should ... not be involved in partisan politics.”