ITEM TWO:  Madame Treasurer

She wore crutches to her swearing in ceremony last January and, since then, we have learned some other interesting things about Vermont’s State Treasure. For starters, her favorite hobby is developing non-Euclidean formulas (what?!); as a young woman she unintentionally held up passage of her home town’s municipal budget (her father chaired the Finance Committee) because she asked for outcomes data on an expense item; her office hospitality includes offerings of beverages and an assortment of delicious chocolates; but, it is perhaps her thick Mass accent, which coats every “r” and “a” like frosting on a cake, that makes Beth Pearce so endearing. A self-described “geek”; she was born for this job and she loves it.

Along with Commissioner Jim Reardon and State Auditor Tom Salmon, Pearce recently co-hosted 310 government officials at the annual meeting of the National Association of State Auditors, Comptrollers and Treasurers (NASACT). In addition to workshops focused on the financial management of state governments, Vermont hosted a panel of five governors (Dean, Douglas, Kunin, Salmon, and Shumlin) to discuss trends past and present. At one point, Shumlin referred to Pearce as the best Treasurer Vermont’s ever had, at which point the previous State Treasurer and former Governor, Jim Douglas, leaned forward and looked at Shumlin in that deadpan way that only Douglas can. Was Shumlin fluffing up Pearce in front of her colleagues or poking at Douglas – who knows?  It was, however, another well-hosted Vermont-based event with a national audience that is sure to draw guests back for a vacation or two.

In my recent meeting with Pearce (I ate only two chocolates) it is apparent that she’s been very busy since January working long days and weeks to, among other things, improve Vermont’s pension and post-retirement benefit obligations. There is still much work to be done (she still advocates for defined benefit over defined contribution programs), but the costs are moving in the right direction. For a closer look at these liabilities and other details of the state’s financial picture, read the State Auditor’s 241 page Comprehensive Annual Financial Report for the year ended June 30, 2010.

Pearce also shared some of the issues she is considering for the coming legislative session, which are focused on boosting Vermont’s economy. Some aren’t ready for prime time yet, but those that are include: investigating the feasibility of private activity bonding and energy conservation bonds for job creation, and further reforms aimed at Vermont’s pension programs. On the civic side, Pearce views her office as a means to elevate financial literacy among the public, especially women and children, through implementation of a couple of existing and new programs.  And, she has built up her team with seasoned professionals from the world of finance, which affords her the time to make the rounds in Vermont in anticipation of the upcoming election season. Like I said, she really loves her job.