Metro

Adjunct lecturer of public policy talks General Treasurer race

Almonte aims to improve state labor market, increase opportunities for new grads

By
Contributing Writer
Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Ernest Almonte, adjunct lecturer of public policy, former Auditor General for the State of Rhode Island and former chairman of the U.S. Department of Defense Audit Committee, is currently running for the office of Rhode Island General Treasurer. He sat down with The Herald to discuss his campaign, the challenges facing Rhode Island and his position at Brown.

 

The Herald: You grew up in Johnston, R.I., working on a farm, in a grocery store and for the fire department. Where did your professional career as an accountant come from?

Almonte: My father sat me down when I was a sophomore in high school and said, “There’s a lot of doctors, lawyers and other professions in my family. Why don’t you consider being an accountant?” That’s really how it started. So I sat down with the guidance counselor, he explained to me what the accounting profession was, and I thought, I’m willing to try that. So I went to Bryant University and absolutely loved it. If you tell me to spend extra hours doing finance work, that’s like play for me because I really enjoy it, so I don’t feel like it’s work. And I hope everyone gets that opportunity in their life because you can become very successful when you love what you’re doing.

 

When did you decide to run for treasurer and what led you to the decision?

In the spring of 2013, and there were two main reasons why I decided to run. The first one was I looked at our state and said there’s really no plan, there’s no vision for our state. By almost every national metric we’re near the bottom or in last place. The second reason is I have five sons. And my youngest one’s a senior at (the) University of Rhode Island. Of the five sons, three of them have undergraduate degrees and some of them undergraduate and masters degrees. And three of them spent five or six months and could not get a job in the state. So they went to other states and got multiple job offers in one week. Our state has become very good at exporting, but we’re exporting the next generation and that’s just not right.

 

What are the biggest challenges facing Rhode Island, and what is on the top of your list of things to accomplish? 

We have the highest unemployment in the country. Some months we’re the highest, some months we’re tied for the highest, but we essentially have the highest unemployment rate in the country. It’s very hard to do business in the state of Rhode Island. And we have this overwhelming pension problem. I see the greatest deficit of all as leadership deficit, and that’s where I feel I could fill that void.

 

What are your thoughts on the job of your potential predecessor, Gina Raimondo, who is now running for governor of Rhode Island?

She had the courage to tackle the pension problem, which her predecessor and others ignored. We can all agree or disagree on what the solution was, but it took a lot of courage to do what she did to tackle the problem.

I’m the only candidate that’s running that has both national and international credentials. If you look at my four-point plan, I explain to people that my whole career I’ve been put in situations with the most complex problems, complex financial problems, and that’s what I really love. Through the treasurer’s office, we will improve returns, reduce expenses, diversify the investments and make the plan sustainable. And when you do that, you’ll create a culture of business growth and job creation.

I’m a CPA — Certified Public Accountant. I’ve been in that field for over 30 years. And so what we’re going to do in the treasurer’s office, I’m going to have a team — a financial expert resource team — to go out and help all the cities and towns with their finances.

 

You have served both as Auditor General and as the Chairman of the U.S. Department of Defense Audit Committee. How would these experiences influence your work as R.I. general treasurer?

The first and most important is I was cleared by the White House twice. I had high security clearance to go in and out of the Pentagon. I’m asking the citizens of the state of Rhode Island to trust me with the keys to the treasurer’s office.

The Department of Defense, directed by Congress, was told to put together an audit committee to get them audit-ready. In the history of the United States, this is the first time they ever had an audit committee. (The DOD) asked me to serve on that committee and then within a short time asked me to be the chairman of it. Over the next five years, the impact on that would be a $3 trillion budget over five years. So my job as the chairman along with the committee was to provide advice on how to be prepared to have financial statement audits for the Department of Defense. And coming here, the treasurer’s office is $8 billion. I have the education, the experience to handle that.

 

How have your experiences been as a Brown adjunct lecturer for the Taubman Center? Do you enjoy teaching at Brown? 

I have to tell you, that’s one of the highlights of my life, every year. I tell my wife, I come out of that class with the biggest smile on my face. I love helping your generation.

When I was the chairman of the AICPA (American Institute of Certified Public Accountants), I gave a speech in Pennsylvania to the NABA — the National Association of Black Accountants. Their motto is “lift as you climb.” I always said, we all need to do that. Just keep in mind that as we’re going through our career, as we rise up the ladder, reach down and grab people and pull them up with you. And if we do that, imagine how much better our organization will be, our community will be, our family will be, our country will be.

 

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.