Ronnie Chatterji for NC Treasurer

Ronnie Chatterji WEBSITE

Indy Candidate Questionnaire

1) Tell us what in your record as a public official or private citizen demonstrates your ability to be an effective Treasurer? Please be specific.

The State Treasurer is effectively the chief economic and financial officer for our state. S/he has a wide-ranging set of responsibilities and unusual authority for a state government official.  My background as an economist, business school professor and adviser to President Obama makes me uniquely qualified to do this job.  I have spent my career using reliable data and sound judgment to advance economic policy that benefits everyone.

When voters elect a Treasurer, they are looking for someone who has the expertise to manage the $95 billion pension fund, the state’s largest health insurer, and all of our state and local bonds. With a Ph.D. in economics and a track record of peer-reviewed publications and policy pieces in national media outlets, I believe I have the demonstrated expertise to serve North Carolina in this role. Further, my government experience, working for President Obama in both of his campaigns and the White House, along with my work for Governor Cooper on two statewide commissions, will allow me to hit the ground running on my first day in office.

In particular, I have spent my career working on many of the issues that the next State Treasurer will have to address. For example,  I have significant experience in health economics and policy, authoring several papers in this area and recently leading a project with the American Heart Association on healthcare innovation. Much of the work I did in the Obama Administration was with small businesses, exactly the kind that we should enroll in my proposed Auto-IRA program that will increase retirement savings across North Carolina. Finally, I conducted some of the most well-known academic studies on socially responsible investing and have been a frequent speaker on this topic to policy, business, and community audiences over the last decade. My most recent book is titled “Can Business Save the Earth?” and documents how public pension funds can invest in sustainable companies and contribute to solutions for climate change. I believe I have the right skills to unlock the power of this office to make a positive impact for everyone in this state.

2) What are the three biggest challenges facing the Treasurer’s office? If elected, how would you propose to address these challenges?

The Treasurer of North Carolina has tremendous, untapped potential to help North Carolina’s families. I will use the direct authority of my office as well as my platform to implement and advocate for effective public policies.

  1. Too few North Carolinians have access to high-quality and affordable health care. I will advocate for the expansion of health care in North Carolina and ensure that the state health plan (managed by the Treasurer) refocuses on affordability and quality of care for our 720,000 state employees. Specifically, I will actively support the expansion of Medicaid across North Carolina. Expanding Medicaid will provide a foundation to reform the State Health Plan. I will ensure that the State Health Plan gets smarter about how it pays for health care. The goal should be to align the billions we pay each year in health care costs with healthy outcomes for North Carolinians.
  2. We must help more of our fellow citizens save for retirement.  As Treasurer, one of my legislative priorities will be the creation of individual retirement accounts for every North Carolinian. These accounts will be managed by the Treasurer’s office and all North Carolina employers who do not currently offer a plan will be automatically enrolled. Employees can opt-out at any time and the Treasurer’s office can leverage our expertise and scale to manage the accounts at low cost. We will incorporate lessons from other states that have been piloting these programs to ensure we offer the best possible product to North Carolinians.
  3. I will modernize and improve the North Carolina Retirement Systems, returning it to world-class standards of fiscal responsibility and risk management. I will carefully review the portfolio and hire the right talent to ensure that we are investing our funds efficiently, with prudence, and with an appreciation for the economic implications of diversity and environmental sustainability.

3) Last year, Treasurer Dale Fowell sought to move the State Health Plan toward a Clear Pricing Model, in which the state sets a rate with health care providers based on what Medicare pays rather than having each provider negotiate an individual rate for services with the plan’s administrator. The North Carolina Healthcare Association has argued that moving to the CPM could deny members and retirees access to critical services. What are your thoughts on the benefits and potential drawbacks of the Clear Pricing Model?

The Clear Pricing Model failed because the Treasurer was unable to build a comprehensive network of healthcare providers to serve our state employees. This failure ultimately created a risk that our state employees could be out of network for their health care needs, which would have meant financial disaster for tens of thousands of North Carolinians. We need a fresh start and a different voice in the room.  I would take a much different approach to addressing the challenges in the State Health Plan. First, I would advocate for Medicaid expansion, which would be an economic boost to our state, improve healthcare access, and help struggling rural hospitals. Next, I would bring together all of the stakeholders in the healthcare system and reach an agreement that is based on aligning our healthcare payments with healthcare outcomes, not only the services delivered. Other healthcare payers are moving in this direction, including Medicare and Blue Cross Blue Shield NC, and the State Health Plan should move in this direction. This approach would have a much better chance of achieving some of the stated goals of the CPM, including greater transparency and lower costs.

4) Folwell has argued that treatments for gender dysphoria should not be covered under the State Health Plan because they are “elective” procedures.” Advocates for the trans community say that these treatments, which include counseling, hormone therapy, and surgical care, are not elective at all—they are medically necessary and can even be life-saving. Do you believe the state plan should cover these procedures? Please explain why or why not.

I believe the state plan should cover treatments for gender dysphoria and will seek to implement this change starting on my first day in office. Over 1000 private sector companies offer these kinds of benefits, according to the Human Rights Campaign. If the state of North Carolina wants to attract the best employees, we need to have competitive benefits. Attracting and retaining a talented workforce will improve government efficiency and benefit all of our citizens. It is also the right thing to do. Children struggling with gender identity issues are disproportionately vulnerable to bullying from their peers leading to elevated rates of depression and suicide. Why shouldn’t children of state employees have the same access to care that they would have if their parents worked at a comparable private sector firm? I believe the economic and moral case for offering these benefits is strong.

5) How well do you believe the state’s Pension Fund has been managed over the past four years? In your view, have there been any significant investment-strategy improvements or cost-savings that will make the fund sustainable for the long-term? How would you manage the fund differently, if at all?

I would adopt a different approach to managing the investments of our state. First, I would hire a permanent Chief Investment Officer and replace the employees who have departed in recent years to make sure the Treasurer has the best possible team to manage our state’s funds. Second, I would call for a comprehensive review of our asset allocation to understand if we are adding too much risk to the portfolio and estimate the impact of the Treasurer’s decision to hold billions of dollars in cash during the recent market boom. Finally, I would task my staff with incorporating environmental, social, and corporate governance concerns into our investment strategy.  I would also implement a redesigned emerging managers program to increase the diversity of fund managers. Based on the numbers available to me, any cost savings realized by the current investment strategy have been outweighed by the opportunity cost of holding excess cash. This equation threatens the long-term sustainability of our pension plan.

I would also be more active in using my power as a shareholder to influence the way companies to operate. Managing $95 billion is like having 95 billion votes on how the economy works and who it works for. I will support shareholder resolutions to increase transparency around corporate involvement in elections by asking all companies that we invest in to disclose their political giving, including their dark money contributions. I will also support resolutions to diversify boards of directors. Finally, I will recommend that corporations that the pension fund owns increase the voice of workers in board elections by allowing workers to elect 40% of board members. These ideas are just a few of the many ways we can use our shareholder power for the good of people in North Carolina and across the country.

6) Will you state unequivocally that you would not accept a position on a corporate board while serving as state treasurer? Why or why not?

Yes, if elected State Treasurer I will not accept a position on a corporate board. The State Treasurer is a full-time position with enormous responsibility and I expect to be fully occupied carrying out the duties of the office.

7) Are there any other issues you would like to address that were not included on this questionnaire?

The 2008 financial crisis and the 2010 elections had a dramatic impact on how the subsequent decade unfolded in North Carolina and across the country. In the coming decade, we need new leaders to emerge, particularly in economic and financial policy positions, to ensure that we lay the foundation for a more inclusive and resilient economy. Some of the most important positions are at the state and local level, such as the NC Treasurer. While it is not a glamorous role, we need committed and qualified public servants from diverse backgrounds to do these jobs and serve as “the bench” for a broader national movement to chart a new course for our country. People like me do not usually run for office but I believe I have the right background to not only do the job but make a positive impact for the people of our state. I am proud that my campaign has already been endorsed by the AFL-CIO, the People’s Alliance, The Committee on the Affairs of Black People and the Raleigh-Wake Citizens Association and we are hopeful to earn the remaining endorsements across the state as well.

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