Colorado state treasurer race: Walker Stapleton and Betsy Markey on the issues

Photo: Betsy Markey, Walker StapletonThe state treasurer of Colorado leads efforts to manage and account for the state's tax dollars. As the department's website says, "By continually optimizing cash flows and maximizing yield on the state's investments," the treasurer plays a role in minimizing the tax burden on the state's residents.

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The candidates for state treasurer, Republican incumbent Walker Stapleton and Democrat Betsy Markey, answered the following questions about issues they may face.

How should the state manage its debt?
Walker Stapleton (Republican)Before my bill to consolidate the debt process in Colorado, taxpayers had no way of knowing how much debt Colorado held. This was clearly a big problem for Colorado’s government and taxpayers. Each agency was able to issue its own debt without any real accountability. I passed a bill with bi-partisan sponsors to solve this problem. This bill did a number of positive things with respect to Colorado’s debt issuance process. Among them, it: increased transparency; made debt issuance a fair, blind process; put financial professionals in charge of the debt issuance process; made refinancing a priority, saving Coloradans millions of dollars.
Betsy Markey (Democrat)Our debt management needs to be transparent for all to see – not just banks and contractors. I want every Coloradan to be able to go to the Treasurer’s website and easily find out what sort of rates we’re getting and if we are indeed getting the best bang for our buck. The incumbent may talk about his work on debt consolidation. What he fails to mention is that he just won’t share any details of what he has actually done on debt consolidation. Debt issuance should be a fair and blind process. Policies dictating that process were established well before the incumbent took office and the former treasurer was a model for sharing information, for example, posting RFPs for financial services for debt issuances on the treasurer’s website and on the state contracting site, BIDS – the incumbent, for some reason forgoes sharing that with the public. Making refinancing a priority is critical. The treasurer should produce ratings reports showing what has been financed – the taxpayer deserves to know and the current treasurer seems to think otherwise. We can't afford to lose transparency in government, as we have under the incumbent. Making sure that taxpayers see the debts we have and how we're making the best decisions for taxpayers isn't silly, it's good government.
What should the state do to meet unfunded state employee pension responsibilities?
Walker Stapleton (Republican)PERA, Colorado’s Public Employees’ Retirement Association, currently has a $26 billion unfunded liability, or rather, money that the retirement plan owes but does not have in the bank. I have been focused on ensuring that this plan makes promises it can afford to keep to current and future retirees. I led the effort to lower PERA’s expected rate of return to a more realistic number. A lower expected rate of return will allow PERA to take a more conservative investment approach, and will better protect retirees’ money. 
Betsy Markey (Democrat)Senate Bill #1 was bipartisan legislation passed in 2010 to address the financial challenges of the 2008 recession. It cut retiree COLAs, increased the age of retirement, and increased the contributions of employees and employers. This legislation set PERA on a course towards full funding in about 30 years. We should give this legislation time to work before considering any other changes to the system. We should always be willing to reexamine it to improve it, but there's been no change in the pillars of the system that show the need for change. The incumbent continues to claim the sky-is-falling around PERA. We’ve seen these types of antics before, like the time he warned of hyperinflation and called for the state to buy gold. No, contrary to what the incumbent says, we aren’t hoping for unicorns or lollypops to fix PERA, just relying on facts.
Does the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights impede the state's ability to meet its financial obligations?
Walker Stapleton (Republican)TABOR gives the people of Colorado a real, actionable voice in the governance of our state. This should be celebrated, not lamented. In other states, backroom deals are struck that leave unsuspecting taxpayers on the hook with the bill. In Colorado, the people get to decide whether to increase taxes on themselves, and time and again, the people have shown that at its core, Colorado is a fiscally conservative state. While more can be done within the boundaries of TABOR to protect programs such as higher education, I believe that the people of our state prefer the power that TABOR affords them.
Betsy Markey (Democrat)Like families and businesses across Colorado, it’s a simple fact that we have to meet our financial obligations. Through TABOR, the people of Colorado reaffirmed this notion. I understand this position and it’s the reality we have to work within as we deal with the challenges and opportunities associated with ensuring Colorado remains the best place to live, go to school and do business in. Fortunately, the voters, acknowledged the limitations of TABOR and passed Referendum C, giving the State some flexibility. Additionally, this year the governor and state Legislature bolstered the “Rainy Day Fund,” in part to ensure during times of extreme need, such as a natural disaster or economic catastrophe, that our state will have the funds necessary to keep Colorado “open for business.” I support these commonsense measures. I would like to see leaders across the state from all sides work together to identify additional options that provide more flexibility so our budgeting process can respond to issues that pop up and could hurt Colorado. We need to be constantly looking at innovative measures that, with the public’s support, improve our State, our roads, schools and other vital infrastructure. Although, any changes that are made to TABOR in the future will need to maintain Colorado citizens’ right to vote on tax increases. It’s a difficult path, but one we must go down in order to move Colorado forward.
What will be your top priority as State Treasurer?
Walker Stapleton (Republican)In my first term as treasurer, we have done a great deal to streamline our operations and improve efficiency for the benefit of the Colorado taxpayer. To give one example, prior to my taking office, Coloradans had no way of knowing how much debt our state held. I found this to be unacceptable, as each state agency was able to issue its own debt without any real accountability. I led the passage of a bill with bi-partisan sponsors to solve this problem, which, among other things, increased transparency and emphasized refinancing in this low-interest environment. We have saved Colorado taxpayers millions while simultaneously increasing public access to the work we do.
Betsy Markey (Democrat)My top priority will be accountability. Taxpayers deserve to have easy and full access to exactly where their tax dollars are going and how the state is investing its money. This is information that should be current and easily accessible on the state treasurer's website, something I will spearhead when I'm state treasurer. I will be accountable to the people of Colorado by working full-time on their behalf. I am not shy about working hard. I have built two successful businesses and do what it takes to get the job done. 

Also running is Libertarian David Jurist, who did not complete CPR News' survey.