Tempers flared at the only debate between the four-term Democratic state treasurer and her Republican challenger, who each accused the other of making false claims and lying to the public.
Incumbent Treasurer Denise Nappier squared off Wednesday night against GOP candidate and Trumbull First Selectman Tim Herbst at the NBC Connecticut studios Wednesday night.
"My job is all about the money, about maximizing investment return while minimizing risk. It's about reducing the cost of government," Nappier explained at the beginning of the debate, when asked why voters should care about this race. "Every dollar saved by the treasurer's office is a dollar the state does not have to collect from taxpayers."
Herbst brought up the question of retirement savings and said Standard & Poors has rated Connecticut as having the "second most underfunded pension fund in the country." He added that the state has also been ranked in the bottom 50th percentile of return on investments.
"Here in Connecticut, we have an obligation to honor the commitments we've made to our retirees while at the same time reducing the burden to the taxpayer," Herbst said. "We're clearly not performing where we should be."
Nappier defended her record and said her administration has "done that well," citing the more than $19 billion generated since she took office in 1999.
"We are now at an all-time high. The market value of our assets is $30 billion; that is the largest ever in history," she said. Nappier added that "the treasurer can only invest what she receives" and that Herbst has been blaming her for things beyond her control.
It wasn't long before the debate got personal.
"Tim likes to repeat untruths. But it doesn't make it true. The fact remains that he wants to blame me for things that I have nothing to do with whatsoever," Nappier explained. "To the extent that I have had those funds and could invest them, we’re doing extremely well."
Herbst challenged that statement, alleging that the pension fund was stable Nappier took office and has declined over the years during her administration.
"We're not getting it done and the proof is in the numbers," Herbst said. "This treasurer has not met her own benchmarks and when you're not meeting your own benchmarks, we have a problem. .. Independent economists, financial experts have said we are sitting on a ticking time bomb."
The incumbent said she has met those benchmarks and reiterated the claim that Herbst is blaming her for things that aren't her fault.
Nappier said her administration has saved taxpayers $944 million in city-issued bonds and that the pension fund for the 2014 fiscal year experienced a net increase of $3 billion.
"Our system of pension fund governance is sound," she said. "Those things that I do command, we are doing well, and the reason why he likes to steer the conversation to things that I have no control over is because he knows that we are performing extremely well."
When asked about government transparency, Nappier emphasized the importance of being honest with the public but said she would "absolutely not" sign a petition against a law that makes it harder for the public to access government information. Herbst has already signed that petition.
The candidates' heated exchange lasted beyond the 25 minutes allowed in the debate. The contenders continued their policy disagreements after the cameras stopped rolling.
The two had previously scheduled a debate, but Nappier canceled her appearance due to what her campaign said were personal reasons.