Candidates for Treasurer debate state finance

Dan Blue (D) and Dale Folwell (R) offer competing visions for Office of State Treasurer

Alex Tricoli—For the North State Journal
From left

STATESVILLE, N.C. — State treasurer candidates Dan Blue, III (D) and Dale Folwell (R) faced off last week in a debate hosted by the N.C. Institute for Political Leadership.Blue, a bond attorney, touted his private sector experience in the financial world, while Folwell pointed to his long history of solving complex issues in varied roles as a motorcycle mechanic and accountant, along with his multiple terms in the N.C. General Assembly.With local journalists posing questions, the two candidates discussed issues such as management fees and even the controversial House Bill 2.On the latter, Folwell said he regrets that the legislation, along with the city ordinance that necessitated it, ever came to pass, but played down its effects on the economy, or the role of state treasurer surrounding the issue.”I am not aware of any bathroom issues at the treasurer’s office,” said Folwell.Both advised they would seek to change the status quo in the treasurer’s office, but according to Blue those changes should be incremental, saying pension funds have adequate returns and funding levels. He would also seek to reduce fees paid to investment managers of the pension funds.Citing his role in paying down a $2.7 billion unemployment debt to the federal government and building a more than $1 billion surplus as secretary of the Division of Employment Security, Folwell argued for making similar lasting changes as treasurer. He stated his top priorities were to reduce management fees by $100 million and tackle the unfunded health and pension plans.Regarding the $30 billion liability facing the State Health Plan, Blue acknowledged health care costs were out of control, but benefit levels associated with state employment were an important part of attracting the best talent to those positions. He also called on state employees to lead healthier lives in order to better control costs.Folwell asserted the state should use the size and scope of its health plan to negotiate better terms with insurance providers, while also making a concerted effort to weed out waste fraud and abuse.”It’s tragic that we have beginning teachers, beginning EMS workers, beginning patrol men and women who must work five days per month to pay the premiums of the family health plan in a system that has 800,000 employees.” lamented Folwell.If unresolved, Folwell said as much as 20 percent of the state’s operating budget would be consumed by filling the gaps in pension and health plans over the next 15 years.On the issue of debt, the candidates disagreed whether it should be paid down versus using its leverage to fund infrastructure priorities.While Folwell favored paying down the debt to prepare for any future hard times, Blue questioned the wisdom of not taking advantage of a low interest rate environment to fund infrastructure.”What is the cost of not making investments in our state?” asked Blue.Folwell said such thinking is exactly what created the deficit problems he helped fix, pointing to Blue’s father, state Sen. Dan Blue, and other Democratic legislators who he said over the years left the state in a perilous financial position. He closed by pledging to refuse compensation as treasurer if he did not keep his promises.Blue closed with his belief that the state faces more opportunities than problems as long is it invests in long-term goals.