BOTH DEMOCRATS running for state treasurer want to slice off a portion of state pension funds and use them to stimulate the development of local businesses. After suffering double-digit losses in the economic downturn, they reason, how risky can investing in Massachusetts start-ups be? There’s reason to agree, but also to take every precaution to safeguard the funds. Both candidates, former Democratic National Committee Chairman Steve Grossman and Boston City Councilor Steve Murphy, believe their experience makes them a good overseer of such a plan.
They’re both right, in different ways. But Grossman, who successfully expanded his family’s envelope business into a sophisticated marketing firm, has the direct business experience needed to protect the public’s funds. He is the better choice for Massachusetts Democrats.
In political circles, Grossman is best known as a prodigious fundraiser, which is, in part, how he rose to become chairman of the Massachusetts Democratic Party and the DNC. But he is also a Harvard MBA who would bring money-management expertise to the treasurer’s office. In addition to using pension funds to seed local businesses, he wants to move more of the state’s holdings into community banks. Further, he hopes to use the treasurer’s office to educate the public about their own financial decisions — which, as the sub-prime mortgage debacle showed, is a dire need.
Murphy, who has served ably in his current post and has taken a close interest in budget matters, argues that he, more than Grossman, understands the interests of the everyday taxpayer. But if there is one public office where sophistication is an unalloyed asset, the treasurer’s post is it. Beyond its role as official keeper of the Commonwealth’s money, the treasurer’s office oversees many other functions — from the Lottery to the school building authority — and has great discretion over obscure contracts worth hundreds of millions of dollars.
For this complex assignment, Grossman offers both greater business acumen and a broader vision for the office, and deserves a spot in the general election.
The winner of the Democratic primary will face state Representative Karyn Polito, a veteran state legislator who is unopposed for the Republican nomination. She proposes to shift more of the state’s pension money into passive investments, such as index funds, and vows to cast light on the state’s heavy debt burden. A general-election campaign between Grossman and Polito would offer voters a valuable, substantive discussion about the ins and outs of state finance.