Photo Gallery | Tom Conroy visits Pittsfield on state treasurer campaign trail

PITTSFIELD -- Tom Conroy, a candidate for state treasurer, says he has ideas to help improve the Massachusetts economy and ensure the state's long-term fiscal health -- and the practical knowledge and experience to make that a reality.

Conroy, a state representative from Wayland since 2007, is one of three Democrats seeking the party's nomination in the race to succeed Treasurer Steve Grossman, who is running for governor.

Other Democrats running for treasurer are Deborah Goldberg of Brookline and state Sen.


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Barry Finegold of Andover, and the winner is expected to face Republican Michael Heffernan of Wellesley in November.

During a visit to The Eagle newsroom, Conroy talked about his experience as a legislator and as chairman of the Joint Committee on Labor and Workforce Development, as well as his work in the private sector as a financial, economic, and risk manager. He said he worked with private firms around the nation to help them grow and create new jobs.

As treasurer, Conroy said he would expand a grant program for students of the University of Massachusetts and the state universities and colleges; invest hundreds of millions more of state funds in community banks headquartered in the state to facilitate loans to spur the economy; set up a committee to suggest improvements for the state Lottery; work to assist communities struggling to underfunded retiree pension and health care systems, and consider other reforms or regulatory changes to make state government more efficient.

"This is the sort of smart financial management that I want to bring to the treasurer's office, and there are opportunities all over the place," he said.

Conroy, 52, said examples of his past efforts include "leading the charge" in the Legislature toward passage of a higher minimum wage in the state, and his work on legislation that reformed the unemployment compensation system to maintain benefit levels while adding workplace safety provisions for state workers, which were lacking.

Touting support he has among lawmakers, including the four House members from Berkshire County, Conroy said he can work with legislators to refine or reform laws to bring about savings for the state and boost economic activity.

One goal, he said, is to greatly expand the Commonwealth Covenant Fund, which provides grants for state public university and college students in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) majors who live in Massachusetts after graduating.

"It is a fabulous program; there's not enough money dedicated to it," Conroy said, adding that he would like to see it expanded to community college students and to other academic majors as well.

"We have great educational institutions here," he said, "but all too often we are exporting out brains [to other regions or countries]."

Having graduates remain in the state and simultaneously helping start-up companies to grow here, would boost the economy across Massachusetts, Conroy said.

He also would expand a program begun under Grossman in which the state parks some of the funds it holds short-term "in its checkbook" in chartered banks that are headquartered in the state. There currently is $350 invested under the program in local institutions, Conroy said, and 53 banks participate.

"I want to get to at least a billion dollars invested in local banks with 100 banks [participating]," he said.

Rather than investing in foreign banks or those in other states, keeping a sizeable amount of the state revenue invested in banks here will allow them to increase their loans for growing businesses and property buyers, he said.

On a given day, Conroy said, between revenue coming in and payments going out, the state has as much as $5 billion that must be held short-term.

The candidate also wants to develop and propose law or regulatory changes when he sees an opportunity to benefit the state. "I have dozens of colleagues who want me to be the next treasurer," he said. "They are willing to sponsor this legislation if I come up with good ideas."

"So I am not going to be just the guy who is out there doing the mechanics [of the position]," he said.

In the Legislature, Conroy said, he was closely involved in the state refinancing its bonds at the depth of the Great Recession when interest rates were historically low. That has saved millions in interest payments in each of the past five years, he said.

He also was involved in statute changes that allowed communities to access state financial management expertise to provide greater financial stability in pension fund investments. A key goal as treasurer, he said, is to develop strategies to help cities and towns reduce their long-term unfunded liabilities relative to pensions and retiree health care costs.

And he promised to "hit the ground running on Nov. 5" by launching a study of methods of expanding the customer base of the state Lottery, which helps fund education, and, if repeal of casino legislation [Question 3 on the Nov. 4 ballot] is unsuccessful, to study the impacts of casino gambling on Lottery income.

He said he is the only candidate for treasurer who has already conducted research into how lotteries work and how the base can be expanded, making them more progressive and less regressive.

Conroy graduated from Yale and then received a master's degree in International Economics from Johns Hopkins University and an MBA in Finance from Boston University.

He has worked for two U.S. senators, Gary Hart and Barbara Mikulski, and with refugees from Southeast Asia, helping them to resettle in the United States, and also helped establish a refugee center in Haiti during the Clinton administration.

To reach Jim Therrien:
jtherrien@berkshireeagle.com,
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On Twitter: @BE_therrien