• Notes from the trail: Pearce gets some high-profile nods
     | June 11,2012

    State Treasurer Beth Pearce made political news last week by picking up an early endorsement from the Vermont-NEA.

    Citing the “stability and viability of Vermont’s pension funds” as a chief factor in its decision, the teachers’ union said Pearce, a Democrat, is the right woman for the job.

    The pick doesn’t come as much of a surprise. Pearce is on the record opposing some of the recommendations from prominent pension hawks, who, citing a $3 billion unfunded pension liability, want to cut benefits and raise employee contributions.

    What may come as a surprise, however, is that the chief critic of Vermont’s pension system — David Coates — is also throwing his political weight behind the Democratic incumbent.

    Coates, a well-known financial mind who sits on a slew of important boards and councils, recently authored a dour analysis of the state employee and teacher pension systems in which he called on policy makers to jettison the defined-contribution framework in favor of something akin to a 401k.

    Pearce disagrees with him. Coates said she’s still his pick.

    “If I only dealt with like-minded people all my life I wouldn’t run much would I?” Coates said.

    Coates was going to co-host a fundraiser next week for Pearce at Sen. Dick Mazza’s house – the event had to be postponed when Mazza realized he had a separate fundraising commitment with Lt. Gov. Phil Scott.

    But he said he got to know Pearce when she was deputy treasurer — they’ve attended meetings with ratings agencies together — and is convinced there’s no one better suited for the job.

    “She tells it like it is, and we just happen to disagree on that one point,” Coates said.

    “I’m telling you, she is the person that knows what needs to be done from financial perspective.”

    Republican candidate for treasurer Wendy Wilton also wants to stay with defined contributions, though she says doing so will require employees to turn over a greater share of their paychecks to the pension system.

    One of the next treasurer’s top jobs will be overseeing the pension funds. Oddly enough, Coates and the NEA want the same person at the helm.


    You’ve heard of ceremonial ribbon-cuttings with giant scissors, smashing champagne bottles on boats prior to maiden voyages, but Gov. Peter Shumlin tried out a new one Wednesday: screwing a cover onto a plastic box of electrical wiring and then taking a photo of a communications tower with a smartphone.

    Dramatic, no?

    The ceremonial electrical work by the Democratic governor took place in picturesque Plainfield below a new 100-foot tower where administration officials and lawmakers announced the launch of a broadband project that can serve about 4,000 businesses and households in rural central Vermont towns.

    It’s all part of Shumlin’s goal of making broadband available to all Vermonters by the end of 2013.

    At first, Shumlin — with screwdriver in hand — said he would use the tool to “connect” the towers that were part of the project together.

    As he started screwing a cover over a box of electrical wiring attached to the side of a small building, however, it became clear it was more of a ceremonial “connection,” and Shumlin later acknowledged his role-playing as handyman was “a little drama.”

    But Michael Birnbaum, the general manager of a Cloud Alliance — a company involved in the project — played along.

    “Once we put this box together our connection will be complete, is that fair to say Michael?” Shumlin said.

    “Sure,” said Birnbaum. “You’re the governor.”

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