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Campaign Countdown: Race for Vermont treasurer

Published: Oct. 20, 2020 at 6:49 PM EDT
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RUTLAND, Vt. (WCAX) - It’s a job responsible for billions of public dollars and one you don’t hear much about. The state treasurer is an elected office and long-time incumbent Beth Pearce is facing a challenger this year.

“It’s my greatest honor to be serving Vermont in this way. I’m committed to government service in both my public and my private life," says Pearce, who has been treasurer since January of 2011.

The state treasurer manages the state’s debt and oversees public pension funds. The Democrat says there are challenges, but she loves the job. “For me, it’s about excellence, making sure we build on our past accomplishments and build for the future for Vermont taxpayers," she said.

Since becoming treasurer, Pearce says the state has lowered the amount of debt issuance by 23%. But she says more needs to be done to ensure the health of public pension funds. “Sixty to seventy cents out of every dollar that is paid to a retiree comes from investment income. And we’re going to continue to do that because that’s the best value for the taxpayer, rather than dollar for dollar. We want to continue to use that investment income to pay a good part of the employee’s retirement when they reach that point in their golden years," explained Pearce.

“She’s done a good job,” said Carolyn Branagan, Pearce’s Republican challenger. Branagan says she is not critical of Pearce’s work as treasurer, but believes she could do more to shore up the pension fund. “My objective is to bring the pension fund to the forefront so that taxpayers and voters and everyone working in Montpelier, legislators, government officials, people working in the administration, so they all understand what a problem we face with that retirement fund."

Branagan is a retired teacher, principal, and state legislator. “I miss everything about Montpelier. It was a very, very good job for me," Branagan said.

During her 14 years in the House and two years in the Senate, she spent most of her time on the Ways and Means Committees, dealing with the state’s purse strings. She says for about 25 years the Legislature underfunded the state pension fund, some years as low as by 60%. “The retirement fund, which operates out of the state’s treasurer’s office, is in trouble and we all need to know about that, legislators, taxpayers, folks that work in the treasurer’s office. To stabilize that fund again and get it so it can pay out the amount of money it is meant to pay out," Branagan said.

Pearce says despite the underfunding, there is not a crisis. She notes that 498 state employees retired in July and everyone on the pension payroll received their payments without missing a beat during COVID. She says she has the skill set to continue filling this position. “This is not the time -- to be very candid -- that you want to bring in folks that do not have the same level of experience," said Pearce.

After being diagnosed with cancer, Branagan took some time off, but she is ready to take on Montpelier again. “I loved it in the Senate. I learned a lot. I mean, it’s not without its frustrations as any job in Montpelier, but I was looking forward to serving several terms in the Senate and that didn’t happen. But I can do other things, like be treasurer," said Branagan.

The office is nonpartisan, but Pearce is proud of her Democratic background. Branagan says she filed as a Republican because the Democratic spot had already been filled.

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