|(The Boston Globe)|
WHICHEVER CANDIDATE is elected state treasurer Nov. 2 will have considerable freedom to define his or her role. As the official keeper of the state’s books, the treasurer keeps an eye on cash flow and signs off on debt issues. The office also oversees the Lottery, the school building fund, and the main public pension system. But the post can be much more than that — a bully pulpit for the cause of fiscal restraint and, perhaps, a stepping stone to higher office. The weight voters place on each of those capacities will determine whether they choose former Democratic National Committee chairman Steve Grossman or Republican state legislator Karyn Polito.
Of the two candidates, Grossman is better prepared, because of his extensive business credentials, to take on the formal duties of the office right away. He has an MBA from Harvard, as well as real-world experience derived from taking over, expanding, and transforming his family’s envelope business. Both should help him analyze complex financial transactions and hire top-notch staff.
His platform is thoughtful and serious: While investment firms have tried over the years to win lucrative fund-management contracts by wooing naive officials, Grossman is proposing to put such contracts out to competitive bid. He also proposes to store more of the state’s cash in Massachusetts-based community banks, which are more likely than big institutions to make loans to local businesses.
Polito, a state representative from Shrewsbury, has intriguing ideas as well. For instance, her proposal to put more of the state’s pension funds in passive investment vehicles, such as index funds, could cut down management fees without necessarily hurting the funds’ returns.
Of course, many voters will place a lower priority on investment techniques than on finding a treasurer who’ll raise a ruckus against state spending. And while Grossman offers solid proposals on pension reform and other issues, Polito is appealing to voters specifically as an average citizen who will play watchdog. Her Republican affiliation gives her political distance from the dominant party on Beacon Hill.
What Polito lacks is a strong record of engagement on fiscal issues. This isn’t all her fault. In the face of strong Democratic majorities and a concentration of power in the House leadership, any Republican representative would struggle to make a deep imprint. But even in comparison to other GOP lawmakers, Polito hasn’t been terribly prominent as a voice on budget matters.
Meanwhile, her complex position on Question 3 smacks of having it both ways: Polito vows to vote for the ballot initiative, which would cut the state sales tax from 6.25 percent to 3 percent, while urging the Legislature to push the tax back up to 5 percent. In effect, she’s supporting a measure that not even she believes should be fully implemented.
The biggest strike against Grossman is his prominence as a Democratic fundraiser — and his determination to continue in that capacity. The treasurer’s office has discretion over a number of obscure contracts, and the current treasurer, Tim Cahill, has been criticized for awarding state work to a major political supporter. It would be no less a misuse of public money for Grossman to show favoritism toward firms that donate to the Democratic Party. If Grossman swore off party fundraising, voters could support him without serious reservation.
As matters stand, Grossman is still the better choice for state treasurer. He isn’t brash or flashy, and he’s not an obvious vessel for voters’ frustration with Beacon Hill. But he has the expertise to keep a close eye on the state’s money.