Candidates for treasurer disagree on office’s role
By JENNIFER McDERMOTT | Associated Press
Democrat Seth Magaziner has campaigned on a promise to use the treasurer’s office to revive the state’s struggling economy and create jobs.
The political newcomer says he’s frustrated by Rhode Island’s failure to rebound from the recession. He takes a broad view of what the office can and should do, saying it can be a catalyst for economic growth.
His independent opponent, former state Auditor General Ernie Almonte, says Magaziner is applying for the wrong job. The treasurer is supposed to give the governor sound financial advice, Almonte says.
Voters on Nov. 4 will choose between two candidates who view the fundamental role of the treasurer quite differently. A new Brown University poll of likely voters shows Magaziner leading Almonte 47 to 33 percent, but nearly 20 percent of the voters surveyed were still undecided.
Magaziner’s detailed plan for how the treasurer’s office can help the state’s economy has been endorsed by former President Bill Clinton.
“You have to be what the times demand and that is what the times demand,” he said.
Almonte said he will manage the state’s investments well – the traditional role of treasurer- and give “clear, consistent and competent” financial advice to municipalities, to make them financially stable. That will spur economic growth, he said.
Almonte said he, too, is worried about the economy: Three of his five sons left the state to find jobs. But, he said, it doesn’t make sense for everyone to have an economic plan and try to do the same job.
“He’s running for treasurer to be the governor,” Almonte said.
Magaziner says Almonte is too focused on bookkeeping tasks.
“I feel very strongly that for every candidate, for every position, you better have ideas for how to use the office you’re seeking to put Rhode Islanders back to work,” Magaziner said.
The 31-year-old Magaziner most recently worked as a vice president at the investment firm Trillium Asset Management. He said he has the investment experience that’s necessary to manage the state’s pension fund, and he believes that’s more relevant to the job than accounting experience.
The 58-year-old Almonte is a certified public accountant who spent 15 years as the state’s auditor general and later founded a forensic accounting firm. He said he knows the treasurer’s office well because he has audited it. He first considered a run for governor but said he decided he could do more good by running for treasurer.
Almonte tells voters he has the financial, management and leadership experience for the job. His television advertisements say treasurer “isn’t an entry level job.”
“I’m bringing decades of experience,” he said.
Magaziner counters that Almonte served in a financial position in state government when the state’s finances weren’t performing well. The state needs people with fresh perspectives, he said.
Despite their differences, the candidates agree on some policy goals.
Both said a financial literacy and coaching program started under current Treasurer Gina Raimondo should be expanded, so residents and businesses can take charge of their finances and do better planning. Almonte said he could share best practices from national and international organizations with Rhode Island businesses to help them succeed, as he has done in the past. Magaziner said he’d like to have a mentoring program for small-business owners.
Raimondo, the Democratic candidate for governor, served one term as treasurer. No Republican filed to run to succeed her.
Almonte and Magaziner each said they would review the state’s investments in hedge funds that carry high fees and improve transparency. Almonte has said he would work toward eliminating investments in hedge funds. Magaziner said it only makes sense to get out of hedge funds if there’s a viable alternative.
And they both said the office should continue to be high-profile since its work is so important. It’s been in the political spotlight the last few years because of the pension pressures on the state.
The next treasurer will come into office with the state’s 2011 overhaul of the pension system still unsettled. It was designed to save the state billions, but public-sector unions and retirees sued. Police union members rejected a proposed out-of-court settlement, so the litigation is continuing.
Both candidates said they would try to bring the parties together to craft a deal.
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