MOUNT VERNON — State treasurer candidate Robert Sprague, a state representative (R-Findlay) involved in what he calls a “too-close-to-call” race against Democratic candidate Rob Richardson, stopped by the Mount Vernon News offices Tuesday to discuss his platform — including a public-private investment called “Social Impact Bonds” to combat the opioid epidemic.
Sprague, 45, and his opponent, a labor attorney from the Cincinnati area, are both seeking their first statewide office. Sprague, term-limited in his seventh year as a state House Republican serving the 83rd House District, previously served four years as Findlay city treasurer, and another four as its auditor.
Sprague said experience in both the public and private sector is important for a state treasurer, and offered that his background includes having worked as a managed consultant for Ernst and Young. Later, he owned his own financial consulting firm.
Sprague said his first year as a state lawmaker, he was approached by a constituent whose younger daughter had been treated for heroin a staggering number of times. The addiction started after her older sister, who played soccer in high school, became addicted to “painkiller” medication and started giving some to her sister.
“Her mom told me, ‘We’ve had to mortgage our house now to try and get my daughter help, and you need to do something,”
Sprague said he decided to make combating heroin addiction a major part of his platform. The recovery rate in Ohio for heroin-related addiction shows 11 percent sobriety after one year.
“I think we can do a better job. It’s time to get the private sector involved,” he stressed.
Social Impact Bonds are a creative way to take on opioid addiction and are already authorized under the Ohio Revised Code, Sprague noted. Private businesses — typically nonprofit entities — need to start creating innovative treatment programs, and “would be asked to float a bond,” Sprague said. That bond would be in a range of $1 million.
“The state commits to their running a two-year pilot program,” Sprague explained. “The state will say ‘Show us the results at the end.’ Then the state will have Deloitte (Touche), or some other independent accounting firm, come in and confirm what the results are. You want independent confirmation of what works. As a state, we would be paying for a 40 percent recovery rates or better.
“The state would end up buying back that bond with interest at the end of the period. It’s a phenomenal concept.”
Ohio taxpayers would not be taxed on Social Impact Bonds because the investment, risk and reward is taken on by the private sector, he added.
“There are firms on Wall Street that are putting up the money on these bonds for their investors. And the best thing is, the state only has to pay for the things that work. The risk is all on the private sector.”
Higher recovery rates through Social Impact Bond-tied treatment programs, in addition to saving lives, will save the state money, he said.
Sprague also said that, unlike his opponent, he opposes state Issue 1 — proposing to reduce crimes for obtaining and possessing illegal drugs — because possessing up to 20 grams of fentanyl would be treated as a minor misdemeanor. Fentanyl is a narcotic used to treat severe pain that can cause respiratory distress and death when used as a street drug in high doses.
Other issues Sprague campaigns on include:
•Expanding the nationwide STABLE account program for Ohioans with disabilities, which allows them to work and save and gain independence without losing needs-based benefits;
•Promoting public-private partnerships to overhaul the state’s aging infrastructure including roads, bridges and airports, which would involve creation of a state Bureau of Excellence for P3 (Public-Private-Partnership) deals; and
•Expand the state’s Online Checkbook, which allows taxpayers to see how their taxes are spent by using data offered by the state to benchmark spending and make comparisons across agencies while helping identify government inefficiencies.
Sprague resides in Findlay with his wife, Amanda, and their five children. He earned a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from Duke University, and a Master of Business Administration (MBA) from the University of North Carolina.