BOSTON — Massachusetts should increase its rainy-day fund and lower its expected pension fund rate of return to 7.75% from 8%, its incoming treasurer told investors on Friday morning.
"I'm sure investors and the rating agencies will applaud," Deborah Goldberg said at the commonwealth's annual investor conference at the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center. Goldberg, elected to a four-year term, will succeed Steven Grossman, who vacated his seat to run for governor unsuccessfully.
Grossman supported fellow Democrat Goldberg on both stances. Under Grossman, the commonwealth lowered the expected return to 8% from 8.25%.
"Look, we were an outlier at 8-1/4% and we were still an outlier at 8%. But I support Deb's move to lower it even further," Grossman said in an interview. "Even though it will add $1.8 billion to our unfunded pension liability, I believe it will be a credit positive as the rating agencies see it."
Massachusetts' rainy-day fund stands at $1.248 billion, including a $140 million withdrawal it made for the fiscal 2015 budget. The commonwealth still ranks in the top five for rainy-day balances.
"You want to add to the rainy-day fund when you're economy is growing, to brace for the next recession," said Grossman. "We'll have another recession at some point, the question is when."
Goldberg, in an interview following her speech to about 280 investors, said she and Gov.-elect Charlie Baker have begun discussions about further increasing the rainy-day fund. "We want to increase it significantly over the next four years," she said.
Asked by how much, she replied: "It's too early."
Baker, a Republican, was scheduled to speak to investors later in the day. Baker and Goldberg will take office Jan. 8 and Jan. 21, respectively.
Goldberg, a scion of the family that founded the Stop & Shop supermarket chain and a former selectwoman in Brookline, a Boston suburb, traces her financial background to working in the family business and her involvement with fiscal matters at the local level. She spoke across the road from the D Street site of her family's original Stop & Shop warehouse.
She is also the granddaughter of the late state Superior Court Justice Lewis Goldberg.
"In my local community I was very involved with fiscal issues, I really pushed hard on fiscal policies," said Goldberg, 60. "The bond rating has always been a good barometer of how you're doing."
In Brookline, among other involvements, she chaired the audit committee and pushed for bond refundings.
"We have to continue to innovate and do the things that made us strong," said Goldberg. "We have to invest in economic growth and we need an educated workforce to fill the jobs. We're a community of brains - that's our best investment. We also have to keep investing in transportation and infrastructure."
In 2011, Grossman's first year as treasurer, Standard & Poor's raised Massachusetts' general obligation bonds one notch to AA-plus. Fitch Rating also rates Massachusetts AA-plus while Moody's Investors Service assigns its Aa1 rating.
Goldberg also promised to further Treasury's enhanced disclosure policies, for which assistant treasurer for debt management Colin MacNaught ran point. "We will continue to innovate," she said. "The relationship with investors is important to fiscal stability," she said in her speech. "You have financed billions of dollars of significant investments that have improved quality of life in Massachusetts."
Earlier Friday, MacNaught announced that the commonwealth had launched a mobile app for its investor website.
"We are giving you disclosure at your fingertips," he said.