Kevin McCallum ©️ Seven Days
- State Treasurer Beth Pearce announces her retirement Wednesday.
Vermont State Treasurer Beth Pearce announced on Wednesday that she will not run for reelection this year so she can focus on her health.
Pearce, 68, said she learned in April that she has cancer. She’ll have served 12 years as treasurer when her current term ends in January 2023.
“Frankly, I can’t run for office, have a treatment plan and do the best job that I can in the treasurer’s office,” Pearce told members of the media and supporters in Montpelier on Wednesday morning.
She said she was lucky that her cancer had been caught early, and she expected a “positive outcome” from the treatment.
Stepping down from the position after a long career in public service will be difficult, but she vowed to remain engaged.
“I’m going to miss this. This is going to be painful,” Pearce said.
Pearce started on the job in January 2011 when former governor Peter Shumlin appointed her to replace then-treasurer Jeb Spaulding, who resigned to serve in the Shumlin administration.
Pearce considered stepping down in 2017. But she decided to run again in 2018 to fight to protect the state’s pension system from efforts to shift it from one that offers a defined benefit for retirees to one that includes 401k-style plans, called defined contribution plans.
“I said, ‘I’m running, because I’ve got unfinished business to do there,’” Pearce recalled.
True to her word, Pearce has been a steadfast advocate for preserving the existing defined benefit pension system, even as the unfunded liabilities of those plans have soared.
Decades-long chronic underfunding of the system, combined with poor investment returns and increased pension costs as more workers retire, all conspired to plunge the pension system $5.7 billion in the hole.
Lawmakers convened a task force last year to recommend reforms and have come up with a bill to pump $200 million into the funds for state employees and teachers. The measure, which Gov. Phil Scott vetoed but will likely be overridden, also includes leaner benefits for younger workers, higher contributions by employees and some governance changes.
Combined, the changes are estimated to shave $1.7 billion in debt from the system. Lawmakers, largely on Pearce’s advice, rejected Scott’s suggestion that workers have the option of investing in 401k-style pensions. Pearce argued it would not reduce costs and could jeopardize workers’ ability to have a secure retirement.
“I will support a person for treasurer who defends defined benefit programs,” she said Wednesday.
One name that’s been floated is Michael Pieciak, the commissioner of the Department of Financial Regulation. He said last week that he’ll step down on May 16.
Pieciak, a Winooski attorney appointed to the department in 2014, has declined to say what’s next for him. But he told Seven Days last month that he plans to stay in the state and wants to continue serving the public.
Pieciak became a household name while presenting COVID-19 data at pandemic press briefings, and he was Scott’s appointee on last summer’s pension task force.