The one and only 25-minute debate between Democratic State Treasurer Denise Nappier and Tim Herbst, her Republican challenger, wasn’t long enough. The two candidates sparred after the debate at NBC Connecticut’s West Hartford studio.
Max Reiss, NBC’s political reporter who helped moderate the debate, said the two candidates continued their policy discussion after the event, which was livestreamed on NBC’s website.
The microphones were silent, but the finger pointing continued in both directions after their closing statements.
While the cameras and microphones were rolling each candidate accused the other of lying about the state’s fiscal condition and the state’s unfunded pension liabilities.
“We have an obligation to the tens of thousands teachers and state workers all across Connecticut to turn this ship around. To rebound our pension fund. To make sure that our taxpayers aren’t on the hook for this huge unfunded liability,” Herbst said. “Unfunded liability is code language for future tax increases.”
Nappier responded by saying, “Tim likes to repeat untruths, but that doesn’t make it true.”
“He wants to blame me for things I have nothing to do with whatsoever,” Nappier said. “It’s probably easier for him to do that because perhaps he thinks that the voters will not know the difference, but they do know the difference.”
Nappier went onto explain that the treasurer can only invest what they receive and historically the governor and the General Assembly have not given her funds to invest.
“That’s called lost investment opportunity,” Nappier said.
She said the state of Connecticut is performing better than 65 percent of similar public pension funds in the country.
Herbst said the discount rate or the rate of return assumed by the retirement boards and by the state treasurer are unrealistic.
“What that unrealistic rate of return does is mask that true unfunded liability,” Herbst said. “So all we’re doing in the long-term is continuing to kick the can rather than confronting our problems.”
Nappier said over the past five years the state has generated investment gains of 44 percent for the state and teacher pension funds, “realizing in absolute numbers a $9 billion increase in pension fund investment.”
Herbst responded with a golf analogy.
“When you hit one birdie that doesn’t make up with 16 years of double bogeys and four putts,” Herbst said. “The fact of the matter is when Treasurer Nappier sought this office in 1998 she ran on a platform of unfunded liabilities. When she inherited a pension fund in 1998 that fund was stable and over the last 16 years we have declined to the second-most underfunded pension system in the nation.”
Herbst said Nappier has performed “25 percent under her own benchmarks and we have been ranked by independent financial experts as having a pension fund that ranks in the bottom 50th percentile for performance.”
Napper said the Northwestern University study Herbst cited was “discredited.” She said the study assumed the pension fund would be insolvent by 2019 because it assumed the state would never make another contribution to the pension fund and assumed a discount rate that was much lower than what the state expects to achieve.
“We’ve achieved double-digit returns over the last five years,” Nappier said.
The two also sparred over how Nappier handled a decision of the Investment Advisory Council when it came to its recommendation not to invest with Fairview Capital Partners. In 2010, the council voted against investing with the company, but Nappier went forward with the investment a year later.
“The fact of the matter is that our system of pension fund governance is sound,” Nappier said. “The state law gives the Investment Advisory Council the authority to recommend to the governor that he direct me to undo, if not, make an investment. The Investment Advisory Council did not act on that authority. To me that says they ultimately agreed with my investment recommendation.”
Herbst asked to respond to Nappier.
“For the state treasurer to say this isn’t true, are we now saying the Hartford Courant isn’t reporting the facts?” Herbst said.
“That’s not what I said,” Nappier replied.
Herbst said that’s why Connecticut needs to change the law so that the state treasurer is not the sole fiduciary of these funds.
Herbst said Nappier needs to explain why her office is continuing to do business with Landmark Partners, a firm managed by Francisco Borges, a personal friend and ally to Nappier.
“With all due respect, people in glass houses should not throw stones,” Herbst said.
Nappier said Herbst was trying to rewrite history with his remarks about Landmark Partners.
“I was the one who came into office and had to clean up from the scandalous administration of my Republican predecessor,” Nappier said.
She was referring to former state Treasurer Paul Silvester who served prison time for pay-to-play schemes.
This was the only debate between the two candidates. Nappier cancelled an Oct. 7 debate appearance for “personal reasons.”
Parts of the debate will re-air at 10 a.m. Sunday on NBC’s Decision 2014. The full debate will be posted on NBC’s website.