Treasurer Steve Grossman is in high gear

Mass. Treasurer Steve Grossman’s father used to quote Baltimore Orioles legendary third baseman Brooks Robinson, who often said, “Make optimism a way of life.” And that’s the attitude that Grossman reflects, predicting to the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce today that the Commonwealth will come out of the recession better than it went in. If it does, steps that Grossman is taking as Treasurer will play a role in that.

His approach to governance is really refreshing. The four fundamentals of customer services he learned as a private businessman he is making cornerstones of his role as state treasurer: service, quality, value and professionalism. He says he intends to use his office to protect our money, create jobs, promote growth and enhance competitiveness.

A major focus is on the 85 percent of job growth that comes from small business. The biggest barrier to small business is access to capital, which is why he is placing up to $300 million in state deposits in community banks, up to $5 million each. Forty-six banks have signed up; his goal is 200 community banks. The idea is to support growth in small businesses, especially those owned by women, minorities and immigrant entrepreneurs, who have traditionally had difficulty getting capital from the largest banks.

The idea is that Massachusetts taxpayers’ money will be deposited in Massachusetts banks, loaned to Massachusetts businesses, and will create jobs in Massachusetts. Grossman talked about this during his campaign, and he is already moving on the idea. $55 million has already been allocated.

Grossman is also pushing for needed pension reform, including raising the retirement age for new state workers, eliminating incentives for early retirements and changing the way benefits are calculated. He’s taking on the pension issue because it is essential to reduce our indebtedness to be viewed positively by the ratings agencies in the credit markets.

Toward the same end, he wants to take some of the state’s increased tax revenues and build the rainy day fund back up to $1 billion. He notes that Massachusetts and Tennessee were the only two states given a positive outlook by the ratings agencies, and he wants to solidify that position.

Grossman also wants to use his role with the pension investment board to scrutinize the makeup of publicly held companies in the Commonwealth. Citing The Boston Club’s annual census of women directors, he noted that six years ago, ten percent of directors of the Globe 100 corporations were women; today 11.3 percent are women. “That’s not a lot of progress,” he observed, adding that the state with its proxy power can be more aggressive in pursuit of diversity within the framework of maximizing shareholder value. [Full disclosure: I serve on The Boston Club’s Corporate Board Committee.]

Mindful of the lack of faith in government, Grossman is working to put the state’s “checkbook” on line so we can all see what the government is spending its money on, the purposes of the expenditures, the vendors with whom it is doing business – in short, what’s going out and what’s coming in.

If Grossman succeeds in implementing his vision for the Treasurer’s office, he may well emerge as a leading candidate to succeed Deval Patrick as Governor, an office for which he ran unsuccessfully in 2002.

Please let me know your thoughts in the comments section below.

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