Both candidates for Spokane County treasurer have lots of experience.
But they differ on the kind of experience that’s better suited for the job and how to use that experience.
The two candidates, state Sen. Michael Baumgartner and local accountant David Green, have different kinds of economic expertise. Green is a financial planner and has been a certified public accountant for nearly 35 years. Baumgartner has helped craft state budgets as a state senator and worked in economic development in multiple places around the globe.
They disagree on whether the role of treasurer should involve policy-making. Baumgartner says he would be an advocate for policy changes and search for waste in county government, while Green says he would focus on improving service and investment practices to earn more money for local governments.
Green, a Democrat, also has promised to serve a full four-year term, a pledge Baumgartner, a Republican, has declined to make.
Incumbent Treasurer Rob Chase declined to run for a third term so he could run for county commissioner.
The treasurer’s office is responsible for collecting property, real estate and excise taxes as well as investing county funds.
Baumgartner, a two-term Republican senator, announced in February that he was running for treasurer, allowing him to remain closer to home.
He said he’s running for treasurer because voters want a trusted elected official who has strong fiscal and conservative values with a track record of working across the aisle to deliver results for Spokane.
“If you look at what I’ve done in the state Senate working with both Democrats and Republicans on important issues, like solving the McCleary decision, writing the state budgets, bringing us a new medical school and bringing us, finally, full funding for our north-south freeway, I think there’s a lot of demonstrated ability in what people want in an elected official – someone they trust that’s committed to fiscal responsibility that can work in a bipartisan fashion to deliver results,” he said.
Baumgartner said there’s a policy component to the position as well, noting that as state senator, he partnered with Chase to help change the law to allow residents to make partial payments for property taxes.
Green said he’s choosing to run for elected office because his skillset matches the position of treasurer.
“Politicians are exposed to budgets because they passed them, but it’s not hands-on experience,” he said.
He believes that policy is left up to legislators and not the treasurer. If elected, he’ll focus on the county’s investment performance.
“I think we’re asleep at the switch right now,” he said. “I think that since July of 2017, Spokane County’s investment portfolio has done worse than the local government investment pool that the state runs and I think that’s costing local government entities money.”
Green said the county has $173 million in an account that could be earning more than four times the interest if a portion of the money was shifted from the county’s investment pool to the local government investment pool, provided the county has a good handle on cash flow needs.
“If that amount were to stay constant for an entire year, that’s an extra $4 million that’s available for the county, the airport board, the school districts,” he said. “So, I think that we don’t need to change law, we just need to change practice and be more intelligent about how we are investing our money.”
Baumgartner said he would advocate against wasteful spending or tax policies that aren’t good for the local community or government.
Green said Baumgartner described the role of the county commissioner.
“If he’s interested in looking for wasteful spending and having impact on how money is spent, he really should be running for commissioner rather than county treasurer,” he said.
Green said he attended the Washington State Association of County Treasurers conference this summer and met with 31 county treasurers.
“I walked away from that meeting with a clear understanding that county treasurers in our state don’t set policy,” he said. “I also walked away with a clear understanding that Spokane County is not implementing best practices.”
Both candidates said transparency between the treasurer’s office and the public is imperative.
Baumgartner wants to improve transparency in the treasurer’s office by showing tax dollar spending with a model used from the Ohio state treasurer’s office that features interactive budget models. They would appear on the county website.
“It will be a start with that website and I think everybody in Spokane should be able to track every single tax dollar that they spend and know where those things go,” he said. “So, that’s an important part of transparency.”
Green added he had to submit a public records request to the county for four months of investment reports because the treasurer’s office hadn’t uploaded them to the website since March.
“I think we got a website that’s up there, we got reports that could stay up there for months at a time – as opposed to one month at a time,” he said.
State Rep. Mike Volz, who is running for re-election to his state House seat in the 6th Legislative District in November, serves as the chief deputy treasurer for the county. Both treasurer candidates said they would retain Volz and could work well with him.
Green said he’s well-equipped to run the office while Volz is away for a long legislative session.
“I think it’s important to have somebody with financial skill sets, with accounting skill sets in the office, if the chief deputy is going to be in Olympia for a 105-day legislative session,” he said.
Baumgartner said Volz is an asset to the treasurer’s office despite his absence.
“I think he’s on the fast track to be very influential in writing the state budget,” Baumgartner said. “We work well together. I’ve enjoyed working with him as a seatmate and I think we’ll continue to work well in the county treasurer’s office.”
As of early October, Baumgartner had raised more than $101,000 in donations, including financial backing from the Washington State Republican Party, PHRMA, Microsoft and Anheuser Busch, according to Washington’s Public Disclosure Commission. About $61,000 of his campaign fund is from individuals.
Green raised more than $60,000 in donations, with more than $42,000 self-contributed to his campaign.
“By putting a fair chunk of my own money in, I am not beholden to anybody,” he said.
Baumgartner secured 57 percent of the vote during the August primary election.
Green signed a pledge to not accept another state, city or federal appointment if elected to a four-year term as treasurer and challenged Baumgartner to do the same. Halfway through his first term as a state senator, Baumgartner ran for U.S. Senate – a race he lost to Sen. Maria Cantwell. He announced his intent to run for Congress in late 2016 when rumors swirled that U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers would be appointed the interior secretary and her seat would become open.
Baumgartner said he’s hesitant to sign the pledge because he doesn’t know what the future holds.
“I like serving the public and I don’t know what will come next, so that wouldn’t be something that I would want to commit to right now,” he said. “But, it is my full intention to serve the full four years and that’s my focus – is being a good county treasurer.”
Green said signing the pledge indicates he’s only interested in serving as treasurer.
“I think it’s important for voters to know that there’s some people that just want to be the treasurer. They are going to be really, really good as treasurer because their skill sets match up to the job perfectly,” he said. “I have no interest in any other office and I would love to serve this county as treasurer for the next four years.”