PROVIDENCE — On the Rhode Island Report podcast, former state commerce secretary Stefan Pryor outlined an expansive role for the state treasurer’s office, saying he’d use it to assist small businesses, weigh in on tax policy, and help “create a vision” for the state economy.
Pryor is running in a Democratic primary for general treasurer against former Central Falls mayor James A. Diossa, who was interviewed on last week’s podcast. The winner will face James L. Lathrop, North Kingstown’s finance director.
“My goal is to help strengthen the Rhode Island economy,” Pryor said when asked why he wants to be treasurer. “The treasurer’s office is an ideal platform for it. The treasurer’s staff are skilled in finance, and we know that there are likely tough times ahead economically.”
Pryor, who had served as Rhode Island’s commerce secretary since 2015, said the treasurer’s office “should be the permanent home for small business financing,” and the treasurer “should be helping to create a vision for the economy of our state” along with the governor and secretary of state.
While the governor and the General Assembly set tax policy, Pryor said, “I also think, quite frankly, that the treasurer should think about tax policy.”
Rhode Island should consider a reduction in its 7 percent sales tax rate, he said. “As it stands, we’re not competitive with our border states,” he said. “It would be a good thing to do anyway, but with inflation, let’s give Rhode Islanders some relief at the checkout counter by lowering sales tax.”
During a candidate forum in May, Governor Daniel J. McKee floated the idea of cutting the sales tax, but the General Assembly did not include the proposal in the state budget it passed.
When she was state treasurer, Gina M. Raimondo was criticized for shifting state pension assets into high-fee hedge funds. Pryor, who worked for Raimondo when she was governor, declined to call that a mistake, saying, “At the time, there were moves that needed to be made to stabilize the pension fund. I don’t want to judge those looking backwards.”
But, he said, “It is very important that we keep the fees low and keep the benefits pouring into the pension fund for our valued retirees. So I don’t like and I would not favor going forward with high fee fund managers, hedge funds or otherwise.”
Diossa has been running on his record as Central Falls mayor. But Pryor noted that when Diossa was mayor, Central Falls officials miscalculated tax records, resulting in an 8.95 percent increase in the overall levy – more than double the amount legally allowed under state law. At the time, Central Falls officials said the city had begun notifying taxpayers that it intended to issue refunds or future tax credits.
Pryor said raising taxes by that much could “disincentivize business” and “hurt residents.” And, he said, “If you want to be treasurer, you need to be able to work within the law, need to calculate accurately, and you can’t violate the law and undertake procedures and calculations and payments that are wrong.”
Diossa filed a Hatch Act complaint against Pryor, saying Pryor announced his candidacy for treasurer on May 24 but remained in his state job while seeking endorsements and accepting donations. Pryor called the complaint “just patently false, obviously false, clearly false.”
Pryor blasted the Diossa campaign for posting pro-Diossa messages from the @StefanforRI Twitter account. “This is a serious moment in time where inflation is so far up and the stock market is experiencing such rockiness,” he said. “We need a treasurer who’s not engaged in juvenile antics and pranks that are, frankly, beneath the office of the treasurer.”
On the podcast, Pryor also responded to criticism of the decision to provide tens of millions of dollars in public financing for a soccer stadium project in Pawtucket. And he weighed in on the Commerce Corporation vote to shift most of its already-approved $27 million in support for that Tidewater Landing development deal to the stadium itself.
Hear more by downloading the latest episode of Rhode Island Report, available on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Amazon Music, iHeartRadio, Google Podcasts, and other podcasting platforms, or listen in the player above.
Edward Fitzpatrick can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @FitzProv.