Issues

Why he’s running

Stefan is running for Treasurer to keep building a healthier, more inclusive economy for Rhode Island.

 

Managing the State’s Finances

Stefan is committed to managing the State’s finances responsibly – so we can grow the economy, expand opportunity, and enhance needed services for all Rhode Islanders. Stefan is the only candidate for Treasurer who has experience managing billions of dollars of investments.

For more than two decades, governors and mayors have trusted Stefan to manage major investments, drive economic growth, and expand economic opportunity. As President of the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation, he managed billions of dollars of public investments related to the rebuilding the World Trade Center after 9/11. Following the Great Recession (and a period where Rhode Island had the highest unemployment rate in the country), Governor Gina Raimondo asked Stefan to lead Rhode Island’s economic comeback as Secretary of Commerce. Stefan was successful in building our economic momentum and attracting billions of dollars in investment to our state. Now having served across two governors, Stefan is proud that the state currently has its lowest unemployment rate on record and has had the strongest economic recovery from the COVID pandemic in the Northeast. This means more Rhode Islanders are finding opportunities right here in Rhode Island. But we cannot take this progress for granted. We must do more to secure our economic future.

 

Growing the Pension Fund

As Treasurer, Stefan will work to strengthen our pension system — protecting taxpayers and securing retirement income for our valued first responders, teachers, nurses, and public servants.

Stefan’s goal will be to grow the pension fund so Rhode Island can restore benefits ahead of schedule. Even though significant work remains, there has been substantial progress made towards growing the fund through the work of recent treasurers. Prior to 2011, Rhode Island found itself in a precarious situation – with over 10% of the State’s budget dedicated to pensions and with the 2 nd lowest combined funding ratio nationally. We need to build upon the progress that has occurred since then.

Stefan’s approach includes:

  • Diversified, low-fee approach: Stefan’s strategy will emphasize low-fee index funds, will retain and/or strengthen assets that protect against inflation, and will optimize returns to the fund. Stefan will make sure fees and performance levels are disclosed transparently.
  • Data-driven analysis: Stefan will comprehensively analyze pension fund investments to determine at a high level of detail how they’re performing – both in the context of their fee structures and in comparison to other states’ funds. Stefan’s fact-based and transparent approach will protect and grow the gains that the system has seen under recent treasurers.
  • Investing in Rhode Island. Stefan’s first priority will be to fulfill his fiduciary responsibility to deliver the best returns for our valued public servants. With that in mind, and as pension health continues to improve, Stefan will study the best practices that other states have used to invest more locally. Stefan will also explore investments in sectors that offer strong returns and have the potential to benefit the RI economy.

 

Helping Small Businesses

We need to offer help on an ongoing basis to our small businesses, the lifeblood of our economy.

As Commerce Secretary, one of Stefan’s earliest acts was to help create the first-in-memory (and perhaps the first-ever) state-backed small business loan program. Stefan also teamed up to bring attention to the inequities entrepreneurs of color face in accessing resources, resulting in millions of dollars of new resources dedicated to minority-owned businesses. When the pandemic hit, Stefan worked around the clock to keep our small businesses afloat and help them adapt. He worked with small businesses across the state to help them access federal resources and fought to deliver over 10,000 grants to small businesses through State programs. Stefan worked closely with small businesses as they navigated the pandemic – and helped them at every turn.

As Stefan talks to small business owners across the state, he continues to hear a need for more assistance in accessing financing. We scaled up small business support during the pandemic, and we should build upon the progress we made. As Treasurer, Stefan will enable the Treasurer’s office to offer continuing small business financing – including access for minority-owned, women-owned, and veteran-owned businesses. We will work to make all government forms and filings for small businesses digital – partnering with the Governor and various departments of the administration, the Secretary of State, and cities and towns to create an electronic one-stop shop for small business. And we will continuously and persistently work to decrease the number of forms and amount of red tape. Stefan will also continue advocacy regarding the reform and reduction of the tangible tax on small businesses. Small businesses have already paid sales tax on equipment and furniture and shouldn’t have to keep paying tangible taxes every year on these same items. This tax impacts our smallest businesses disproportionately.

 

Financial Tools for Domestic Violence Survivors

Domestic violence victims and survivors face many challenges in addition to the physical and
mental impacts of abuse. Rhode Islanders experiencing domestic violence shouldn’t have to worry
about their finances or face barriers, such as being unable to safely access joint bank accounts,
when leaving an abusive situation. Multiple forms of assistance are necessary to help support
survivors. As Treasurer, Stefan will – together with community agencies, banking institutions, and
other partners – strengthen and offer financial tools to help those leaving abusive relationships.

According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV), 1 in 4 women and 1 in 9 men experience severe physical violence, rape, and/or stalking from their spouse or partner. Domestic violence survivors often face very serious challenges with economic and financial abuse – often limiting their ability to afford necessities on their own. Victims and survivors are too often forced to choose between staying in an abusive relationship and being out on the street or in tough financial circumstances. In fact, the NCADV estimates that 94 to 99 percent of domestic violence survivors have experienced financial abuse. Substantial numbers lose their jobs every year due to reasons stemming from the abuse.

The Treasurer’s office oversees the Rhode Island’s Crime Victim Compensation Fund. Stefan will
build upon this program to help survivors stay safe and get back on their feet financially. In doing so, he will – together with other agencies and organizations – enhance, streamline, and create
tools that enable domestic violence survivors to obtain financial resources and technical
assistance including:

  • Needed bridge financing and access to housing,
  • Connections to job training and employment opportunities, and
  • Credit-related advocacy.

 

Investing To Support Our Values and Our Interests

Private companies have lots of choices in how they treat their workers and impact our communities. Through our pension fund investments, Rhode Island can advocate for our values. Rhode Island has already made progress in ensuring that our pension dollars aren’t going to support Russian companies following the violence in Ukraine and that they’re not invested with assault weapon manufacturers and private prisons. These have been important steps.

As Treasurer, Stefan will build upon this precedent by using the tools available to the Treasurer’s office – including Rhode Island’s voice, vote, and investment and divestment power – to affect business practices, policies, and activities. The specific approach we take will depend upon the precise circumstances and the approach needs to be selected carefully (with the strength of our investment returns always in mind). Among the items we will track is the business practices of international companies, including Chinese corporations, with which we have investments – for example, monitoring whether they violate trade-related and currency-related rules (rule violations which, it should be noted, have the potential to put our investment returns at risk). Stefan will also partner with other like-minded states and pension funds across the country to maximize the impact of Rhode Island’s efforts.

 

Fighting Climate Change and Boosting Wind Energy

With temperatures rising, waters rising, and storm activity intensifying, the climate crisis is a real threat to Rhode Island’s future. Bold action is needed to meet Rhode Island’s commitment to reduce climate-warming emissions 45% by 2030 and to reach net-zero by 2050.

Environmental stewardship has been important to Stefan throughout his career. He will prioritize fighting climate change and boosting renewable energy through offshore wind initiatives. As Rhode Island’s Commerce Secretary, Stefan served as a champion for Rhode Island’s 400 MW Revolution Wind project and for continuing to procure additional offshore wind energy. As part of that effort, he helped secure approximately $135 million to help sustain offshore wind development in Rhode Island and helped attract a cluster of renewable energy and offshore wind technology companies to the State.

As Treasurer, Stefan will:

  • Continue strategically and responsibly investing in renewable energy, with a special emphasis on expanding Rhode Island’s investments in offshore wind.
  • Use Rhode Island’s voice, vote, and investment/divestment power to affect private sector environmental practices, policies, and activities. All while ensuring that strong investment returns remain our focus, Stefan will study what it would take to move away from investments in dirty energy sources such as coal. Stefan will also partner with other like minded states and pension funds across the country to maximize the impact of Rhode Island’s efforts.
  • Through vehicles such as the infrastructure bank, double down on investing in resilient infrastructure, heating sector transformation, and other crucial climate change mitigation and resiliency efforts. Stefan will especially emphasize supporting municipalities and small businesses with technical assistance to enable and guide the deployments of such investments.

 

Expanding Banking Access

Having spent much of his career creating opportunities and building economic security for people, Stefan understands how public officials can positively impact the daily lives of Rhode Islanders. In a world gone digital, access to a bank account is a necessity. And banking remains key to building household wealth. Yet the barriers to entry, especially for low- and middle-income Rhode Islanders, can be challenging.

As Treasurer, Stefan will partner with financial institutions to expand access to low-cost, accessible bank accounts for unbanked and underbanked households. The goal will be to have low or no overdraft fees, no denials due to poor credit, and no grandiose requirements early in the banking experience.

Instead, banks would offer easy access tax help for low-income individuals, benefits screening, FASFA application assistance, financial counseling, and meaningful low-interest loans.

Together, we can remove the obstacles that block unbanked Rhode Islanders and can help all access the financial help they deserve.

 

Repairing Credit and Getting Out of Debt

Many Rhode Islanders find themselves in challenging financial situations that started with an accident, an emergency, a medical bill, or a simple mistake, but that have been compounded by crushing fines and fees that leave them feeling trapped.

As Treasurer, Stefan will work to help Rhode Islanders break this cycle and help Rhode Islanders get out of debt. He will work to connect people with pathways to get out from under crushing fines and fees, move towards financial banking relationships, and remedy credit challenges. He will also help Rhode Islanders build credit. For example, he will partner with community development financial institutions, philanthropy, and other partners to offer loan guarantees and other instruments.

 

Bridging the Wealth Gap & Affording College or Job Training

Many Rhode Islanders are finding it harder than ever to afford the building blocks for a bright future that previous generations took for granted. For instance, obtaining the education and skills they need for a good job and stable career, or buying a home where they can build a life. That is why as Commerce Secretary Stefan worked with the General Assembly to create the Wavemaker Fellowship, which has now provided student loan relief to over 1,000 Rhode Islanders. It is also why states like Connecticut and the District of Columbia have proposed and introduced “baby bond” programs, providing low-income children a firmer financial foundation for adulthood and helping close the wealth gap.

As General Treasurer, Stefan will increase the state’s efforts to ensure every young Rhode Islander begins adulthood with a firm financial foundation. Stefan will leverage the resources of the Office of the General Treasurer and expand programs that enable Rhode Islanders to afford college and training, buy a home or start a business. Young people of every community and background deserve at least as good a chance as previous generations to build a life here in the Ocean State.

 

Cost Of Living

With gas prices through the roof and prices overall up more than 9% just over the last year, Rhode Islanders are facing tough choices about what to cut back — from groceries to medications to fuel. With many Rhode Islanders feeling the squeeze, we must do more to address the costs that families and businesses – especially small businesses – face.

As Treasurer, Stefan will work to lower costs. As part of the solution, he will advocate to reduce the State’s sales tax (especially if budget surpluses are expected) to provide Rhode Islanders relief at the checkout. The sales tax is a regressive tax that hits middle income and lower income residents the hardest. So, keeping the sales tax under control will help everyday Rhode Islanders in a real way.

Reducing the sales tax will also help us compete with our neighboring states. Massachusetts and Connecticut both have lower sales tax rates – 6.35% for Connecticut and 6.25% for Massachusetts. Rhode Island’s rate is 7%. This higher rate means that Rhode Islanders pay more for goods and services – and means that retail businesses across the state border have an advantage over Rhode Island’s shops and stores.

 

Housing Rhode Islanders Can Afford

Making it more affordable to live in our state is a top priority for Stefan. The average rent for a 1-bedroom apartment has gone up by over 30% in just the last 2 years and the average single-family sales price is up almost 40% in that same time. These price increases (on top of increasing prices for gas and groceries) are making it harder for many Rhode Islanders – from young families starting out to working families trying to make ends meet to seniors striving to stay in their homes.

As Commerce Secretary, Stefan joined with allies to propose the State’s first recurring funding stream to invest in housing affordability and championed the State’s $250 million investment in housing from federal stimulus funds. The Treasurer has a crucial platform – both as a member of the RI Housing board and through its role in promoting investment in our state – to make sure Rhode Island keeps committing resources to housing affordability. Stefan will work hard to keep making progress in this essential area.

 

Schools

Every child in Rhode Island deserves to learn in a school that is safe, warm, dry, and conducive to teaching and learning. Our teachers and students should not have to worry about safety breaches or leaky ceilings.

Rhode Island launched a school construction program in 2018 that has already repaired or replaced nearly 200 school buildings serving over 100,000 students across the state. As General Treasurer, Stefan will expand this effort, working with school districts to take it even further. He will work to ensure that green building standards like LEED are followed on construction projects. He will also ensure the school construction program provides ample resources for school safety. As Connecticut Education Commissioner during and after the Sandy Hook shooting, Stefan knows how important school safety is. As Treasurer, Stefan will make sure students across Rhode Island get to learn in high quality and secure public school facilities.

 

Supporting Cities And Towns

Helping our cities and towns stay in or get on firm financial footing is a priority for Stefan. Stefan knows how important it is to have cities and towns that can afford to invest in their people, their quality of life, and a healthy economy.

Despite progress on the municipal pension front here in Rhode Island, significant work remains. More than 115 municipal pension plans have joined the Rhode Island’s Municipal Employees’ Retirement System (MERS) which enables our cities and towns to benefit from the State’s professional management and economies of scale. The State’s MERS system is now more than 80% funded. However, the remaining 30+ pension plans administered directly by cities and towns are only 49% funded with an estimated $2.8 billion unfunded liability. Not only does this liability hold these communities back financially, but it is also a big risk for valued public servants who are worried about having a healthy retirement.

As Treasurer, Stefan will offer professional technical assistance from Treasury staff to assist cities and towns as they evaluate options for addressing their fiscal health, particularly around unfunded pension and benefits liability. Stefan will support cities and towns that wish to explore entry into the State’s Municipal Employees’ Retirement System (MERS) while protecting the State’s system to make sure pre-existing retirees’ benefits are not jeopardized by new entrants.