Missouri Treasurer Doesn’t See 8% Return: Five Questions

Being the first in his family to go to college has guided Missouri Treasurer Clint Zweifel’s approach to public service.

The son of a carpenter and a hairdresser, Zweifel said his middle-class upbringing has led him to advocate conservative pension-return assumptions and promote a college savings program. Called a 529 plan, the program has reached $2.2 billion in assets and more than 146,000 account owners, both record numbers, under his management, according to his office.

Voters in Missouri, which Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney won by 10 percentage points, re-elected the 40-year-old Democrat to a second term in 2012. Zweifel, who may run for governor, began his political career as a state representative in 2003.

The following is condensed from a recent phone interview:

Q: The assumed investment return for the Missouri State Employees’ Retirement System is 8 percent. Do you think that’s appropriate?

A: You have to be able to look taxpayers in the eye and say yes, there’s a high likelihood that we’re going to be able to hit this return, not just over one year, two years or five years, but over a 30-year period. That’s a heck of a promise to make to taxpayers. I’d rather us have a lower rate of return that we feel with a higher confidence we’re going to be able to hit year after year. Eight percent is not a number that I feel comfortable with.

Q: Should Missouri follow Kansas’s lead and cut the state income tax?

A: We should keep what is already a very low-tax environment for our businesses and our citizens. We stack up very well when it comes to cost of living. Where we can find opportunities to cut taxes strategically, that makes sense. But we also have to know while we’re doing that, we’re going to have to ensure that we’re competing in terms of higher educational investment in places where it matters.

Q: Missouri is among nine states that have AAA grades from three ratings companies. What could knock it off its perch?

A: The greatest threat is a situation where the legislature takes its eyes off the ball, and they pass something that is irresponsible fiscally that puts Missouri in a very difficult position long-term to be able to ensure that it has a strong and balanced budget.

Q: Governor Jay Nixon appointed you to lead the Missouri Military Partnership to help retain the military presence in the state. Why is that important?

A: We have three major installations and a strong National Guard presence throughout the state. We have the only B-2 bombers anywhere in the world stationed right here. When you add all these investments up, you’re talking about somewhere between 10 and 15 percent of the state’s economy.

We’ve been meeting with leaders at the Pentagon and all of our commanding officers at the installations to find and identify ways where Missouri can add value in terms of making a more militarily friendly environment for servicemen and women, to make those bases and installations more efficient and to help them achieve their strategic purpose.

Q: What does the nickname Show Me State mean to you?

A: Show Me State is representative of what Missourians really expect, which is they need to be showed proof. You can’t just simply say something. You see that every day and how people vote in this state. We had an election where Romney won overwhelmingly in this state, where Democrats won pretty overwhelmingly in the statewide offices and Republicans won pretty overwhelmingly in the legislature. It’s proof of their approach that you have to show these voters something first that’s deeper than party or past affiliations.

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