The race for the Washington State Treasurer — think of it as the player in Monopoly trusted with the responsibilities of the banker — has come down to issues of resumes, accomplishments and attendance.
Current Treasurer Duane Davidson, a Republican, is seeking re-election to a second — and he says final — term in the office. He is challenged by state Rep. Mike Pellicciotti, D-Federal Way, who has represented the 30th Legislative District for two terms.
Davidson, a CPA, previously served as Benton County treasurer and chief financial officer for that county’s auditor’s office.
Before serving in the Legislature, Pellicciotti, an attorney, was an assistant state attorney general, leading the office’s financial examiners, auditors and analysts. He also served as chairman of the Equal Justice Coalition, a nonprofit providing civil legal aid.
The banker of a board game, of course, doesn’t come close to describing the duties of an office that handles billions of dollars for the state and its local governments. The treasurer acts as the state’s chief financial officer with responsibility for cash management of public funds, arranging short- and long-term investments and the sale of bonds to finance major public projects, a notable example being the transportation and capital budgets passed by the Legislature.
The treasurer also is the sole elected official on the State Investment Board, which manages the state pension and other trust funds; is chairman of the State Finance Committee and Public Deposit Protection Commission and sits on other boards, including the committee that oversees the state’s prepaid college tuition (GET) program, the Housing Finance Commission and the Economic and Revenue Forecast Council.
The candidates’ views on key issues are not widely divergent. Both, during a joint interview with the editorial board, said they believe the governor should call a special session before the next regular session in January to address a revenue shortfall resulting from the pandemic; and both have advised judicious use of the state’s “rainy day” fund to make up some of that shortfall, with the understanding that it be replenished as soon as possible. And both are leery of a proposal for a state bank, which could offer savings on financing of state capital projects and would allow the state’s marijuana industry a legal place to bank but could possibly put state pension and other investments at greater risk.
The choice falls then to considering Davidson’s accomplishments over the last four years and the flip side of the coin regarding allegations Pellicciotti has made regarding the treasurer’s attendance at meetings of committees for which he is a member and in two cases the committee chairman.
Under Davidson’s leadership, the treasurer’s office has launched or improved on a number of initiatives, including renegotiation of debt that saved the state some $455 million in interest payments; programs that have advised local governments on their long-term investments; and aided smaller agencies, such as fire districts, by assembling financing that bundled bonds with other small districts to achieve lower interest rates.
Davidson’s office, as the editorial board noted in 2019, also has used the agency’s website to promote personal financial literacy through self-guided lessons on a range of financial subjects, including loans and payments; buying a home; paying for college and planning for retirement. A module on money basics offers information on emergency funds, checking accounts, overdrafts, credit scores and reports, identity protection, insurance and taxes.
But it’s Davidson’s lack of attendance — specifically at committee meetings — and his dearth of direct involvement with lawmakers, using a contract lobbyist to work with state lawmakers, that Pellicciotti said are problems.
In comments to the editorial board and in a press release last month, Pellicciotti faults Davidson for missing about half of scheduled committee and board meetings during his tenure, including those for the State Investment Board, the pre-paid tuition (GET) committee and the Economic Development Committee, absences that have happened throughout his term but which, Pellicciotti said, have occurred more frequently during the last two years.
Davidson, by the lawmaker’s accounting, has attended only three of the last 20 investment board meetings; missed all of the GET meetings since the end of 2018; and attended only three of 26 meetings of the Economic Development Finance Authority, which addresses small business financial assistance.
Davidson’s absence at a Housing Finance Committee meeting in May of 2017 left the panel one member short of a quorum and delayed bond financing for a senior living facility in Tukwila, Pellicciotti claims.
Davidson points out that he has appointed members of his office’s staff to attend meetings, a practice allowed by statute and used by previous treasurers. The GET committee, he said, is attended by a single mother who heads his financial literacy department; another woman sits on the investment board and a deputy attends the housing finance meetings. All are experienced and report back to him, he said.
Davidson is correct to note that no treasurer could run the office on his or her own and would rely on trusted career employees. But, in some cases, Davidson’s reasons for missing meetings raise concerns. In a few cases Davidson missed meetings to attend a campaign fundraiser, meet with Republican Party officials and at least once for a barber appointment.
This is about more than warming a seat at a committee meeting. Even with responsibilities left to trusted and capable staff members, Davidson’s attendance — as an elected public official — at more meetings would have better represented state residents.
Pellicciotti does not have Davidson’s accounting background, but he offers other abilities that are of value.
Pellicciotti was one of the few lawmakers responsive to the requests of the news media for release of calendars and other documents related to their legislative work, and he voted against the Legislature’s attempt in 2018 to largely excuse lawmakers from public records requests. He wants to extend that transparency to the treasurer’s office and the state’s finances, suggesting creation of a “transparency portal” modeled after a program in Pennsylvania.
And at a time when state lawmakers are confronting an estimated $4.5 billion shortfall in revenue for this and the coming two-year budget, they will need the trusted counsel of the state treasurer. Pellicciotti can draw on his current relationships in the House and the Senate to that end.
Davidson’s accomplishments in his term should count, but so does a commitment to showing up. Pellicciotti has shown the resolution to show up and serve.