Name as it appears on the ballot: Ronnie Chatterji
Party affiliation: Democrat
Campaign website: www.RonnieChatterji.com
Occupation & employer: Professor at. Duke University
Years lived in North Carolina: 14
1. Tell us what in your record as a public official or private citizen demonstrates your ability to be an effective Treasurer? Please be specific.
I am an economist and chaired professor at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business and Sanford School of Public Policy with expertise in business strategy, entrepreneurship, and socially responsible investing. I have spent my life solving economic problems in federal and state government and in private sector organizations.
I previously served as a Senior Economist on the White House Council of Economic Advisers during the Obama Administration. There, I worked on policies to strengthen our national economy after the Great Recession, which resulted in tax cuts for small businesses, greater access to capital for entrepreneurs, and investments in economic development in North Carolina and across the nation.
Upon his election, Governor Roy Cooper appointed me to his Entrepreneurial Council as well the NC First Commission, a bipartisan group tasked with developing a long-term strategy to guide transportation investments in our state. In both of these roles, I have worked to improve our state’s policies to invest in infrastructure and support small business.
I also have a proven record of turning innovative ideas into smart economic policy and have helped family-owned businesses in North Carolina as well as public companies grow and thrive. All of this work will inform my work managing the state’s investments.
In my academic work, I am a leading authority on corporate social responsibility. My recent book, “Can Business Save the Earth?” explains how business leaders, investors, and policymakers can collaborate to build a more sustainable world. I have also done significant work on health care, another key responsibility of the State Treasurer. I recently authored a report with the American Heart Association on innovation in cardiovascular care and I have taught health care innovators how to develop strategies to scale their organizations and impact.
2) What are the three biggest challenges facing the Treasurer’s office? If elected, how would you propose to address these challenges?
Too few North Carolinians have access to high-quality and affordable health care. I will advocate for the expansion of health care in North Carolina and ensure that the state health plan (managed by the Treasurer) refocuses on affordability and quality of care for our 720,000 state employees. Specifically, I will actively support the expansion of Medicaid across North Carolina. Expanding Medicaid will in turn provide a foundation to reform the State Health Plan. I will ensure that the State Health Plan pays for healthcare in smarter and more transparent ways. The overarching goal should be to align the billions we pay each year in health care costs with healthy outcomes for North Carolinians.
Additionally, I will modernize and improve the North Carolina Retirement Systems, returning it to world-class standards of fiscal responsibility and risk management. We have lost out on $4 billion in gains due to mismanagement and the lack of a permanent Chief Investment Officer for years. I will carefully review the portfolio and hire the right talent to ensure that we are investing our funds efficiently, with prudence, and with an appreciation for the economic implications of diversity and environmental sustainability.
We must help more of our fellow citizens save for retirement. As Treasurer, one of my legislative priorities will be the creation of individual retirement accounts for every North Carolinian. These accounts will be managed by the Treasurer’s office and all North Carolina employers who do not currently offer a plan will be automatically enrolled. Employees can opt-out at any time and the Treasurer’s office can leverage our expertise and scale to manage the accounts at low cost. We will incorporate lessons from other states that have been piloting these programs to ensure we offer the best possible product to the people of our state.
3) Last year, the State Health Plan moved toward a Clear Pricing Model, in which the state sets a rate with health care providers based on what Medicare pays rather than having each provider negotiate an individual rate for services with the plan’s administrator. The North Carolina Healthcare Association has argued that moving to the CPM could deny members and retirees access to critical services. What are your thoughts on the benefits and potential drawbacks of the Clear Pricing Model?
Treasurer Folwell’s Clear Pricing Project (CPP) failed, and we need a different approach to increase transparency, reduce costs, and improve health care outcomes. CPP failed to attract any of the major hospitals in the state, which would have left State Health Plan members out of network almost everywhere in North Carolina. Paying out of network charges for cancer treatments or at childrens’ hospitals would be disastrous for working families in North Carolina. While the data has not been released to date, it is likely that the CPP has driven up costs so far because many of the providers who did sign up received increased reimbursements, while the major hospitals that did not sign on reverted to the prior fee schedule. With the Clear Pricing Project being proposed once again, we cannot play chicken with the health care of 700,000 people.
I will take a different approach and get real results. It starts with supporting the expansion of Medicaid, which is crucial for rural health care providers and essential for any reforms to the State Health Plan. As the largest payer of health care in North Carolina, the Treasurer could be a powerful voice in support of Medicaid expansion. Next, I will bring all of the stakeholders together and develop a plan that holds our health systems accountable for price but also health care outcomes, which have been totally neglected under the CPP. In this way, we can get more transparency, lower costs and better outcomes. But it all starts with finding common ground on Medicaid expansion so that our hospitals, particularly in rural areas, have the financial stability to collaborate on changes to the State Health Plan.
4) Treatments for gender dysphoria aren’t covered under the State Health Plan because they are considered “elective” procedures.” Advocates for the trans community say that these treatments, which include counseling, hormone therapy, and surgical care, are not elective at all—they are medically necessary and can even be life-saving. Do you believe the state plan should cover these procedures? Please explain why or why not.
Yes, I believe that treatments for gender dysphoria should be covered under the State Health Plan as it had been under the previous Treasurer and as it is for many private health plans across North Carolina. This policy changed only when Treasurer Folwell came to office and decided to inject his personal politics into the lives of families in North Carolina. No convincing explanation for this decision was ever offered.
I am proud to be endorsed by EqualityNC and I stand with the LGBTQ+ community. But my position is not simply about my commitment to equal access to health care for everyone. I also believe that in order to attract and retain the best and the brightest people to work for the State, we must offer competitive benefits.
As the next State Treasurer, I will reverse this policy and bring us in line with the many other businesses across North Carolina that already cover these treatments.
5) How well do you believe the state’s Pension Fund has been managed over the past four years? In your view, have there been any significant investment-strategy improvements or cost-savings that will make the fund sustainable for the long-term? How would you manage the fund differently, if at all?
My approach would be markedly different from our current Treasurer. I would draw on my experience as an economist, business school professor and former White House economic adviser to reverse the tremendous losses of the last 4 years. I would hire a permanent Chief Investment Officer with the right experience to lead our investment team. Even as an experienced economist with a Ph.D., I would rely on a skilled team of professionals to advise me in managing our $100 billion fund. The current Treasurer has deviated from the investment strategy that his own team had created and he had signed off on. As a result, we currently have over 10% of our funds in cash and are significantly below our target allocations in public equities, with little explanation. If the Treasurer had simply followed the investment policy, we could have gained $4 billion over the last 4 years. Any fee savings, none of which have been independently verified to my knowledge, are completely outweighed by these losses. We must do better. I would align our asset allocation with our policy and then conduct a review to determine if we need to make changes to our investment policy going forward.
Next, in recognition of the recent CFTC report and a growing body of evidence, I would estimate and manage the risk climate change poses to our investments. I believe climate change is real and incorporating climate risk can be informative for investment decisions. I also would be a voice on behalf of investors to ensure that the companies we invest in are effectively managing climate-related risks and disclosing pertinent information about their operations.
Finally, I would take a different approach to working with Department employees and external stakeholders. There has been significant attrition in the Department and external relationships have been damaged. I would adopt a collaborative approach that relies on getting the input from experts both inside and outside the Department to make important decisions. In doing so, I hope that I can restore the once great reputation of North Carolina’s Department of State Treasurer.
6) Will you state unequivocally that you would not accept a position on a corporate board while serving as state treasurer? Why or why not?
Yes. I will not accept a position on a corporate board while serving as State Treasurer. The State Treasurer job is a full-time position with a wide ranging set of responsibilities. I would not serve on any corporate board because this service could detract from my work at the Department of State Treasurer.
7) Are there any other issues you would like to address that were not included on this questionnaire?
If elected, I would be the first Asian-American individual elected statewide in the history of North Carolina. My campaign has been endorsed by numerous organizations and individuals, including the North Carolina Association of Educators, The Sierra Club, Equality NC, AFL-CIO, CWA, President Obama, Senator Cory Booker, Senator Tammy Duckworth, Stacey Abrams, Beto O’Rourke, Governor Roy Cooper, Attorney General Josh Stein and many others.
Comment on this questionnaire at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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