DIVESTMENT OF PENSION FUNDS A FLASH POINT IN TREASURER DEBATE
By Colin A. Young
STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE
STATE HOUSE, BOSTON, OCT. 10, 2018.....The two candidates for state treasurer squared off Wednesday for the first time in an abbreviated debate that touched on the Lottery, unclaimed property and Donald Trump, but the candidates separated themselves most on the topic of whether pension funds should maximize returns or try to affect social change.
Deborah Goldberg, the incumbent Democratic treasurer, argued that treasurers "absolutely have a fiduciary duty" to work on social issues, like divesting pension funds from gun manufacturers, as Goldberg has proposed.
"It is incumbent upon you because these social actions impact the bottom line of these companies and therefore their profits, so as an investor you have a right to do that," Goldberg said.
Keiko Orrall, the Republican state representative from Lakeville who is challenging Goldberg, said she does not support divesting pension funds from gun manufacturers and said the focus of the pension fund should be on securing a strong return.
"We need to be looking at the best rate of return. We have Smith & Wesson in Springfield. That's not the way that we should be conducting the pension fund investments," Orrall said.
The two debated for almost 15 minutes on WGBH's "Greater Boston" program, with host Jim Braude moderating. The debate began with a discussion of the Massachusetts Lottery, a topic that Orrall has made a central focus of her campaign. Orrall has lobbed criticism at Goldberg for the way in which the commission Goldberg chairs went about soliciting and selecting a new headquarters for the Lottery and about a recent decision to find a new bidder for a South Shore regional office.
"The Lottery decision that has been made to move it out of Braintree after it has been there for years is really unclear to me," Orrall said. "It's an issue that needs to be addressed because we don't know where they're moving or what it's going to cost."
The Lottery has signed a lease for its headquarters and administrative offices to be located at 150 Mount Vernon St. in Dorchester but is still searching for a new South Shore regional office and location for its data center. The lease in Braintree expires in January and Lottery officials have said rent in Dorchester will be "significantly higher" than in Braintree.
Goldberg detailed the process the Lottery used to find a new headquarters and to solicit proposals for other offices and pointed out that the Division of Capital Asset Management and Maintenance, an agency that falls under Republican Gov. Charlie Baker's control, led the process.
The treasurer also laid out her rationale for asking the Legislature to allow the Lottery to sell its existing products online, a change she says is necessary to maintain record or near-record sales and profits at the Lottery in recent years. Over the past two legislative sessions, there has been little appetite on Beacon Hill for moving the Lottery online.
Asked if she thinks the Lottery should be allowed to operate online, Orrall said, "That's a question that we should discuss after we address the critical issue" of the Lottery's move.
Pressed by Braude for her personal feelings, she said, "I think that I've talked to enough small businesses that are concerned about the traffic in their brick and mortar stores that we need to carefully look at that issue."
Orrall also charged that Goldberg has not done enough in her four years in office to return more money from the treasurer's unclaimed property division, claiming that the state returns only 10 percent of the unclaimed funds.
"We have a backlog in the unclaimed funds division. That division oversees money that is supposed to be going back to the taxpayers and I don't think enough of an effort is being made to return that money," she said. "When you owe the government money, they certainly come after you. I believe we need to do more of an effort to return" that money.
Goldberg said her office implemented a new software system for the unclaimed property division last year and as a result received more claims than ever before, requiring her to hire extra customer service representatives. She said the claims process "took us a little bit longer because we had never had to manage that number of people."
"We're number one in the country in returning money to people ... getting it back to people and getting the most amount of money back to people," Goldberg said.
Braude ended the debate by asking each to give a rating of the first two years of President Donald Trump. Goldberg gave the president a D.
"I think that he has impacted our democracy in the most negative ways," she said. "He plays to people's worst instincts and even though he has done some things that have improved the economy and made things better for some, he has brought out the worst in our people."
Orrall, who is also a Republican National Committee member, said she would give Trump "a much higher rating."
"I believe that we have seen changes that will make improvements here in Massachusetts," she said, adding, "He has an unusual personality and an unusual way of communicating."
When asked by Braude if she would support Trump in 2020, Orrall said, "If he's up for re-election, I would support the president. I believe we need to have people on both sides of the aisle who are trying to get to civility and who are having honest conversations."
Serving the working press since 1894