Transparency is essential
It’s time for complete transparency and openness in our state’s finances. Vermont currently receives failing grades on fiscal transparency: a D-minus from the U.S. Public Interest Research Group and a D-plus from the Center for Policy Integrity. As your state treasurer, I fully intend to shine the light of public scrutiny on Vermont’s finances.
Failures in transparency by financial officers and treasurers in private companies and government are numerous. Every financial failure I can think of in my lifetime (Enron, city of Rutland, Burlington Telecom, or 2008 market crash) had its roots in a failure of transparency to those who may have made different decisions with better information.
I will provide unrestricted public access to the state budget and fiscal performance measures to help you understand how the state spends your tax dollars. This information will be available online and in real time. This will also provide you, and your representatives, the unbiased information you need to evaluate the effectiveness of this spending and encourage productive discussions about the state’s priorities.
I know from personal experience as the elected treasurer of the city of Rutland that greater transparency and accountability result in better government. I have been the treasurer of the city of Rutland since March 2007. When I took office, the finances of the city were in complete disarray. Rutland had borrowed $5 million to repay accumulated short-term debts and provide basic working capital. This was not a one-year deficit, but a chronic fiscal crisis developing since 2003.
Working with Mayor Louras and the Board of Aldermen, we went to work to fix the accounting and financial management mess. Over the next three years, we modernized the accounting system, streamlined operations, restructured the city’s long-term debts, increased investment returns, ensured good internal controls and improved operational policies for all departments. We accomplished these reforms while providing all of the basic services our citizens expected from the treasurer’s office.
Most importantly, I began reporting regular, timely and accurate financial information to the board, city managers and the public. Total transparency is an important — and essential — step in achieving accountability. With better financial information the mayor and the board could make responsible financial decisions. As a capstone to this effort, the board enacted a policy at my urging to maintain a working capital threshold in the general fund to avoid a recurrence of a deficit.
As a result of my leadership, and commitment to total budgetary transparency, Rutland has recovered from its financial troubles faster than expected. Last year, the city posted a $3.8 million positive fund balance and first “clean” audit in 32 years. For these accomplishments, I was recently honored as the Vermont Municipal Clerk and Treasurer’s Association Treasurer of the Year. I am humbled by this recognition from my peers who understand the importance of achieving and maintaining high standards that taxpayers expect.
The Rutland experience is a reminder of the value of transparency. We don’t need to face an imminent fiscal crisis in Vermont, as we did in Rutland, to acknowledge the need for complete transparency and openness in our state’s finances. Openness in fiscal matters, and effective management, are essential to achieving and maintaining a sustainable government.
If I am elected Vermont state treasurer, I will deliver immediate and lasting transparency and accountability. Vermonters deserve, and should expect, nothing less.
The writer is the Republican candidate for state treasurer.