Q&A: State treasurer candidates address the issues

 

Colleen Davis

Name: Colleen Davis
Party: Democrat
Office seeking: Treasurer
Age: 38
Occupation: Financial consultant
Family: Husband, Anthony; son Liam, 13; son Desmond, 10; daughter Margaux, 2
Elective experience: N/A

Ken Simpler

Name: Ken Simpler
Party: Republican
Office seeking: State treasurer
Age: 51
Occupation: Delaware state treasurer
Family: Married to my wife, Liz, of 27 years and have three children
Elective experience: State treasurer of Delaware (2014-present); chief financial officer, Seaboard Hotels (2005-2014); investment manager, Citadel, LLC (1996-2005)

Why are you running for this office?

CD: I am running for treasurer because Delawareans deserve someone who has been in their shoes — who understands what it means to rely on a strong public school system, who has spent countless late nights at the kitchen table trying to balance budgets, who has lived in an area where access to clean water is threatened by corporate greed and who is dedicated to supporting a thriving economy — managing their hard-earned money.

KS: The way we manage our public finances impacts every Delaware family, business and nonprofit. As your state treasurer, I’ve worked across state government and political aisles, with a focus on improving the value of what we get for what we spend. I have seen firsthand that we can fix the systems that we use to plan, prioritize and measure improvement in everything we do in state government, from education and health care to safety and infrastructure. Getting better without spending more is both fiscally responsible and politically possible. Good finance is good government — and my mission as your state treasurer.

What would be your top priority if elected?

CD: My top priority is making the office run in a more transparent, efficient manner so that Delaware taxpayers can rest assured that their money is being managed most effectively.

KS: My priorities for a second term as your state treasurer are as follows:

Stretch every dollar: Improve the efficiency of our $10 billion in spending by re-engineering the state’s transaction network — an initiative that will save money, lower the risk for data breaches, and prevent cyber fraud.

Balancing our borrowings: Make the most of our $2 billion in indebtedness by instituting formal debt policies and an annual feasibility study, reforms that will better align our needs with our means, cut down on our expenses and preserve our AAA bond rating.

Consistency in our commitments: Secure stable funding for valuable programs that preserve farmland, support fire companies and improve the lives of persons with disabilities — commitments that, once promised, should be kept by running our overall finances more predictably.

If you could change one state policy or law, what would it be?

CD: Many economists believe that our system of measuring economic output, or the gross domestic product, is outdated. Experts increasingly agree that a model like the genuine progress indicator is a more accurate measure, because it accounts for not only monetized economic wealth but gives a more holistic view of factors that affect our economy.

KS: As state treasurer, I have promoted reforms to our 40-year-old budgeting systems and processes. Nothing is more important to our prosperity as a people than ensuring that we can meet our needs within our means — over the long term, and not just one year at a time. The last two years have seen the budget down 10 percent and then up 10 percent. The result has been ill-timed tax increases and budget cuts that hurt Delawareans in 2017 only to be partially reversed in 2018. Revenue reforms paired with new spending controls and a fund that can be used to save money in good times are necessary parts of a better manner of budgeting.

How would you work with other state officials?

CD: As a consultant, I am required to enter unfamiliar environments and collaborate with new clients and health care systems every day. Upon taking office, I would pull on my strengths as a collaborator and start by assessing the staff to gauge their strengths and measure potential areas of improvement. Then, I will ensure that all staff are working to the top of their capabilities and support their professional growth to draw talent to strive to reach their greatest potential.

KS: Over the past four years as your state treasurer, I have consistently demonstrated a willingness to work with everyone but think for myself — and always on your behalf. Our state’s finances are not headed by a single CFO, as they would be in most private companies, but rather by a team of elected officials and political appointees of both major parties, including the treasurer, auditor of accounts, secretary of finance, budget director and controller general. Far from being divided, Delaware’s fiscal heads have worked in ever-greater coordination during my four-year term, recently agreeing to form a “Financial Officers Roundtable” to resolve interagency challenges.

What, if anything, should be done to increase revenue for the state or cut spending?

CD: There are two direct methods the Treasurer’s Office can drive down cost: paying contractor invoices promptly and utilizing the talent within the office to its fullest. I will strive to continue to do businesses with companies best suited to perform the tasks under contract and with the best cost margins. Creating revenue via development and financial literacy programs will provide increased tax-base via employable Delawareans resulting in true economic productivity.

KS: Our mission in the State Treasurer’s Office is to create value for Delawareans. In the past four years, we have been able to increase investment returns on taxpayer monies, save expenses and offer more choice on retirement plans, empower people with disabilities to save with new accounts and support programs and boards that had previously been unstaffed — all within the state’s annual budget growth. There are many additional opportunities to do more with the resources we already have, allowing us to provide consistent service levels without new revenue sources.

Is there anything else you think is pertinent?

CD: The treasurer sits on several boards, including the Cash Management Board, Government Expenditures & Accountability Review Board, Agriculture and Volunteer Fire Department Committees, among several others.

It is important to understand how the cash flows in and out of the state as well as to steward those taxpayer dollars. We have been budgeting and setting aside money to prepare for the typical fluctuations in the market and similar fluctuations in the needs of Delawareans for a long time. In fact, since the early 1990s we have maintained a AAA bond rating and remained in the top five in the nation regarding our long-term financial viability.

It is important that our legislators are able to appropriate a small portion of the money that is set aside during budgeting in order to help meet the needs of the constituents they serve. At the end of the fiscal year our legislators are able to make very meaningful decisions based on the needs of the public they serve. It is not the job of the treasurer to make those types of decisions and it is certainly not the job of an individual who has described an agenda of shortchanging all of the vital programs that help meet the needs of the average voter, as my opponent has done.

GEAR is responsible for reviewing and guiding how the state pays its bills, typically contractors, and creating accountability in the process. Contractors that are submitting invoices in the last several months have had to wait close to a year to receive payment on those invoices. Waiting to be paid for an extended period like that can cause a company to have to borrow money to pay their overhead, incur increased cost and fees and even file for bankruptcy.

It is important to also have accountability coming from the Treasurer’s Office itself. It has been nine straight quarters since the Treasurer’s Office released the financial reports on where our tax dollars are being invested and the performance of the portfolio. The current incumbent has laid claim to producing the budget surplus and yet has not revealed the actual portfolio performance, while many legislators would disagree with this claim.

The treasurer must understand the value of the agriculture industry in our great state and work to improve conditions for our farmers that are feeling the implications of the national tariffs and will soon trickle down to consumers. Agriculture contributes a significant portion of Delaware’s GDP, and the impact on this vital industry will not be without consequences to the farmers themselves but also to the individuals and families and tax base that also relies on the industry.

As an individual whose life has been directly impacted by volunteer services, I understand firsthand how important it is to support our volunteer fire departments. Their service to the community should be championed by an individual such as myself who places value in the volunteers and their great sacrifice and service.

KS: Delaware needs and our citizens deserve a true finance professional managing our state’s finances. In the case of the State Treasurer’s Office, that means having the knowledge, experience and professionalism to oversee the financial operations of a government that spends $10 billion, carries $2 billion in debt, invests $2 billion in taxpayer money and oversees plans with $2 billion of savings. The four years I have served as state treasurer are backed up by a 20-year career as an investment manager for a $25 billion global investment firm and the CFO of a Delaware-based commercial property and hotel management company.

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