Tonight is the vice presidential debate for the 2016 campaign. While it certainly lacks the hype of the first presidential debate last week, tonight’s debate should be an opportunity for substantive discussion between two experienced politicians. Both Tim Kaine and Mike Pence have served as governors of their states as well as serving in Congress. Despite their long political careers, neither has a lengthy or detailed record on public pensions.
Tim Kaine got his start in local politics, first on the City Council and then as Mayor of Richmond, VA. Later he was Lieutenant Governor and then Governor of Virginia. Currently he serves as Virginia’s junior Senator. Kaine was Virginia’s governor during the financial crisis. The Virginia Retirement System experienced a funding shortfall, due in part to the financial crisis, and Kaine worked with the state legislature in a bipartisan way to fix the funding gap. On Social Security, Kaine has firmly opposed proposals to partially or fully privatize the system.
Mike Pence’s record on retirement security could not be more different. Before his election as governor of Indiana, Pence was a member of Congress for twelve years. He actively supported President Bush’s attempt to partially privatize Social Security. He has continued to support any number of ways of “reforming” Social Security that would weaken retirement security for working families. While he has not engaged in any direct attacks on public pensions during his term as governor, he has not opposed attacks by the conservative Indiana legislature. Not only that, but earlier this year Pence proposed using the assets of the Indiana Public Employee Retirement System (INPERS) as a slush fund to “boost entrepreneurship and innovation” in Indiana. His proposal would have required INPERS to invest $500 million in early-stage and mid-market Indiana companies. This is despite the fact that INPERS is managed by a board of directors with a fiduciary duty to properly invest the assets of the pension fund and that board is not under the control of Governor Pence.
Clearly, the two vice presidential nominees offer contrasting visions of how to provide retirement security to working families. While Mike Pence has long advocated for Social Security privatization, Tim Kaine has opposed such efforts. When the Virginia Retirement System faced a funding shortfall during the recession, Kaine worked to shore up the system. Pence, on the other hand, has proposed using Indiana’s public pension funds as a slush fund for his own pet projects.
While the two candidates at the top of the ticket will decide most people’s votes, their choices for vice president say a lot about how much they value a dignified and secure retirement for American workers.