While most of the attention come Nov. 3 will be focused on the presidential election, there are several state treasurer races that will impact state pension systems and the retirements of millions of Americans.
Voters in four states — Oregon, Pennsylvania, North Carolina and Vermont — in particular will decide whether to re-elect their incumbent state treasurers. Within these races are candidates floating bold ideas, such as adopting a state-backed automatic individual retirement account program or switching to defined contribution plans for new employees. At the same time, voters will weigh in on gubernatorial elections in 11 states and, in California, a constitutional amendment to change the way larger commercial and industrial properties are taxed.
Here's a look at the treasurer races to watch:
In Oregon, incumbent Democrat Tobias Read is seeking his second term as treasurer after his election in 2016. He is running against Jeff Gudman, a Republican who has completed two terms on the Lake Oswego City Council and has worked as a financial analyst for a manufacturing company and treasurer for several subsidiaries of NW Natural Gas, as well as Michael P. Marsh, who's running on the Constitution Party line, and Chris Henry, an independent running on the Pacific Green Party and Progressive Party lines.
In his first term, Mr. Read, who previously served in the Oregon House of Representatives, spearheaded the implementation of Oregon Retirement Savings Plan, the nation's first state-sponsored private-sector retirement program known as OregonSaves, which launched in 2017. As of Sept. 11, the program had more than 73,000 people with funded accounts and $67.1 million in assets, according to Mr. Read.
"We've seen the popularity grow over time and we've worked really hard to make it the lightest possible touch for employers and the most positive experience for individual savers," Mr. Read said in an interview. "That rollout has been really important in establishing its stability and reputation."
OregonSaves has three investment options: a capital preservation fund, an S&P 500 index offering and a suite of target-date funds. If he's re-elected, Mr. Read said he'd like to have a discussion as to whether the capital preservation fund, which is the default fund for savers' first $1,000, can be used as a more "true emergency fund" that is tied to a saver's expenses. "There are a bunch of things where we're learning from peoples' real life experiences that could inform how we make it even more relevant and meaningful in peoples' experiences," he said.
Mr. Gudman said in a statement that if elected he would have a "relentless focus on costs of administering the (OregonSaves) program. A modest change is the presentation of basic financial statements at the board meetings, which does not happen currently."
One of Mr. Gudman's other focuses would be addressing the unfunded liability of the public retirement system. The state's largest fund, the $74.1 billion Oregon Public Employees Retirement Fund, Salem, had a funded status of 69% at the end of 2018, according to board documents from January.
Mr. Gudman said he will utilize his 40-plus years in finance to tackle the funding issues and will provide more transparency around Oregon Investment Council decisions, like setting its policy guideline for the OPERS' projected rate of return, which then has to be approved by the OPERS board of trustees, he explained.
"When you understand that assuming a lower policy rate of return will have a far bigger impact on OPERS than, say, a decrease in lottery fund revenue will have on debt capacity, then you apply real world finance to a real world problem," he said.
The state treasurer has a seat on the Oregon Investment Council, Tigard, which oversees the investment and allocation of all the state's trust funds. Mr. Read said the council had been preparing for a disruption in the market in recent years by derisking its portfolio, which put it in a much better position to weather the COVID-19 pandemic.
"We're not completely isolated from the world, nor should we be, but I think we are more resilient and we have a significant advantage, as do most pensions, in that our mandates are really long term," Mr. Read said.