News Column

Candidate makes pitch to be 'people's banker'

August 18, 2014

By John Castelluccio, Gloucester Daily Times, Mass.

Aug. 18--Education and job opportunities are two key areas state Rep. Tom Conroy, one of three Democrats making a bid for state treasurer, said he wants to tackle.

With two daughters heading to college in the next couple of weeks, student loan debt hits home with Conroy. He wants to be a "people's banker" and "break down" financial obstacles "so that people can afford college and ... are not drowning in debt afterwards for decades." The way forward, he said, is to reduce interest rates on student loans and expand loan forgiveness programs or other debt relief to graduates.

One way to encourage low-interest loans is by investing more of the state's assets in local banks, as opposed to investing overseas or on Wall Street, he said. Conroy would maintain an initiative started by current Treasurer Steve Grossman, in which the state makes short-term deposits with participating banks.

"It helps create jobs, and it helps grow the economy," Conroy said. Banks end up with "stronger balance sheets" and greater lending capacity for individuals and small businesses, such as offering more affordable college loans and home mortgages.

In an editorial board meeting Friday with representatives of the North of Boston Media Group, including the Times, Conroy discussed everything from the student debt crisis and the state lottery system and casinos to partnerships with local banks, raising the minimum wage, pension reform, bond ratings and the ongoing Market Basket saga. He will face state Sen. Barry Finegold and Deborah Goldberg in a party primary Sept. 9.

Conroy, a 52-year-old Wayland resident, was first elected to the House in 2006 after a lengthy career in both the public and private sector in foreign policy -- including working with refugees in Third World countries -- national security and financial management. He and his wife, Sarah Sewall, have four daughters. Conroy says he wants to bring his financial expertise to bear on the challenges facing Massachusetts.

As treasurer, Conroy said he would use Massachusetts School Building Authority funding to promote creation of more preschool programs across the state.

He would work to reform the state's lottery system to make it less regressive on the poor, capture millions in nontaxable revenue and consider if there's a point of diminishing returns. He said the lottery needs to run like a business to be as efficient and effective as possible.

Like his opponents, Conroy does not favor casino gambling in the state. He forecast problems with casinos eight years ago, when a long-term analysis showed casino gambling could have a negative effect on lottery revenues, meaning millions of local aid lost for cities and towns.

Conroy wants to convene a task force of national experts who have dealt with casinos and a working lottery system and who can offer up solutions to mitigate losses, ensure revenues return to local aid and maintain those levels, while also improving the lottery.

As a financial management consultant in the 1990s with companies and state agencies nationwide, Conroy said he helped establish best practices and identify untapped sources of non-tax revenue that were then used to hire new teachers, nurses or retain employees. He wants to take a similar approach to state agencies here by partnering with the Legislature and governor.

Conroy also weighed in on the battle over Market Basket, saying it needs to be resolved sooner than later for the sake of thousands of employees and millions of customers.

He said he would gladly scrutinize the fishing industry or other areas that are struggling.

There's a lot of pushback from business interests on raising the minimum wage, Conroy said, but he argues that it allows low-wage workers to pay their bills and offset some public assistance. It also provides those employees with discretionary income they can spend locally, he said.

"Behind every number," he said, "is a face and a family," he said.

You can reach John Castelluccio at 978-338-2527,, or via Twitter at @SNjcastelluccio.


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Source: Gloucester Daily Times (MA)

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