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Here’s where Colorado treasurer candidates stand on the issues

Colorado Treasurer Dave Young, a Democrat, and his Republican challenger, former state Rep. Lang Sias, face off at a debate hosted by The Colorado Sun, The University of Denver and CBS4. (David Zalubowski/The Associated Press)
Democratic Treasurer Dave Young faces former state Rep. Lang Sias, a Republican, in the race for who will oversee the state’s money

Colorado Treasurer Dave Young, a Democrat, is running for reelection this year against former state Rep. Lang Sias, a Republican.

The treasurer’s duties include overseeing the state’s money, handling its investments, serving on the board for the Public Employees’ Retirement Association and managing Colorado’s unclaimed property program.

Here’s what you need to know about the candidates and where they stand on the issues:

The candidates’ backgrounds

Young, a Greeley resident, is a former math and science teacher. He served as a state representative from 2011-2019, including as a member of the Joint Budget Committee, which writes Colorado’s budget. In 2018, he was elected state treasurer and he’s running for a second four-year term.

Sias also served in the state House. He was a state representative for four years before running unsuccessfully in 2018 to be Colorado’s lieutenant governor on a ticket with GOP candidate Walker Stapleton. He also ran unsuccessfully for state Senate in 2014 and for Congress in 2010. Sias, a former fighter pilot in the Navy and Air National Guard, lives in Arvada and works as a pilot for FedEx. He also currently serves on a bipartisan subcommittee overseeing PERA.

The Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights

Colorado’s Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights is central to every conversation about the state budget and its finances.

The constitutional amendment, approved by voters in 1992 and championed by Republicans, requires voter approval for all tax increases and limits government growth and spending to the combined rates of inflation and population growth.

While neither Young nor Sias would have the power as state treasurer to change TABOR, they can use the bully pulpit of the office to discuss it.

Young, speaking at a debate hosted by The Colorado Sun, the University of Denver and CBS4, said he’d like to see Colorado’s tax policy changed because he feels TABOR has hampered the state’s ability to fund schools, health care and infrastructure. Young, however, didn’t provide specifics on how he’d like to see the policy changed.

“Right now, we’re in survival mode,” he said. “We need to get out of that model.”

Sias said he is a supporter of TABOR “because I think it prompts an important conversation between the voters and our elected officials.”

Democrats and Republicans in the legislature are having conversations about changing TABOR’s limit on government growth and spending to decouple it from the inflation rate because the rate used to calculate the limit lags current economic conditions.

Young said he is interested in exploring ways to better link the TABOR cap to Colorado’s economic conditions — ”I would like to see what the Joint Budget Committee is actually mulling over” — while Sias said he is opposed.

“The idea that we’re in, all of a sudden, crisis mode sort of flies in the face of the fact that the state budget has increased by over 25% in the last four years,” he said. “Second of all, there’s nothing to prevent going to the voters and asking them to change the inflation formula.”

Former state Rep. Lang Sias, a Republican running for Colorado treasurer, makes remarks during a debate Oct. 11, 2022, at the University of Denver. (Olivia Sun, The Colorado Sun via Report for America)
TABOR refunds

How the state refunds money to taxpayers in excess of the TABOR cap is another area where Young and Sias disagree.

This year, Democrats in the legislature, with the backing of Young and Gov. Jared Polis, temporarily changed the state’s TABOR refund mechanism to make it a flat rate instead of tying it to income and giving the biggest refunds to the highest earners. Individual filers got a $750 refund while joint filers received a $1,500 refund.

Sias said he thinks Colorado should keep TABOR refund amounts tied to Coloradans’ income levels. “I would prefer to stick with the original TABOR (refund) mechanism,” he said.

“I think the move to a flat system was actually more beneficial to a larger number of people here in the state of Colorado,” Young said.

Sias, meanwhile, criticized Young for supporting an unsuccessful 2019 ballot measure, Proposition CC, that would have ended Colorado’s TABOR refunds forever and let the state government keep the money and spend it as the legislature wished. He called Young a hypocrite for backing Proposition CC and then celebrating TABOR refunds this year.

“I supported CC because it said, ‘let’s use our refunds to meet essential needs,’” Young said. “We aren’t meeting the essential needs of people. So I’m happy that I made that effort to try to solve problems in the state of Colorado.”

Colorado state treasurer candidate Dave Young, a Democrat, makes remarks during a debate Oct. 11, 2022, at the University of Denver. (Olivia Sun/The Colorado Sun via Report for America)
PERA’s financial stability

One of the treasurer’s most important jobs is sitting on the board overseeing the Public Employees’ Retirement Association, the pension program for tens of thousands of state employees. PERA has faced economic challenges in recent years, and Young and Sias have different philosophies on how to fix it.

In 2018, the legislature approved Senate Bill 200, a measure aimed at strengthening PERA by injecting $225 million each year from the state budget into the program.

Young voted against the bill, while Sias voted for it.

Young says he thinks the fact that the measure prevented PERA’s credit rating from being downgraded “was a good feature,” but that the legislation should be revisited now to determine whether it’s working properly. He said he voted against the measure because it was passed in the final minutes of the 2018 legislative session and he didn’t feel he had enough information to analyze its effects.

“It’s coming up on five years of activity,” he said. “And so I think we should lay all the facts out on the table, we should do a deep analysis of the impact of Senate Bill 200 to see if there are changes that are warranted.”

Sias said Young should have voted for the 2018 bill and that he thinks more time should pass before the measure is revisited per the recommendation of a bipartisan PERA oversight subcommittee that he is a member of.

“The right thing to do right now is to let the Senate Bill 200 work, give it some time to work and percolate through the system before we make any other adjustments to it,” Sias said.

PERA’s investments

As members of the state legislature, both Sias and Young supported a 2016 bill that required PERA to halt investment in companies that have divested from Israel.

When asked if PERA should have investment policies related to social and environmental issues, such as divesting in fossil fuel companies in an effort to combat climate change, Young said his priority is for a sustainable future for PERA.

“I believe in the science of climate change,” he said. “Everybody needs energy. I think it’s a bad fiduciary decision to actually divest from fossil fuels or only invest in fossil fuels. We need to be actually investing in businesses that have a sustainable future in mind. We’re not day traders at PERA. We’re long-term investors.”

Sias said he doesn’t think politics should have any place in the office’s investment policies.

“I don’t think that politics should be having a place, either from the left or from the right, in our investment policies, least of all unilaterally from the treasurer’s office” Sias said. “It should be extremely rare and come from the legislature.”

Sias said the 2016 bill was appropriate because it affected a small number of businesses and helped prevent what he felt was an existential threat to Israel. “We were dealing with a very specific universe of companies, not an entire sector of a market,” Sias said.

The Colorado Secure Savings Program

Sias voted against a 2018 bill that would have created state-run retirement accounts for private-sector employees. The policy, aimed at helping Coloradans plan for a sustainable financial future, became law in 2020, after Sias had left the legislature, and the treasurer’s office is charged with implementing it.

The measure created Colorado’s Secure Savings Program, which starting next year requires most business owners to enroll in a state-run retirement program for their workers if they don’t already offer a 401(k) or something similar. (Employees are responsible for contributing to their retirement accounts and can opt out.)

Sias said if elected, he would manage it to the best of his ability, even though he still dislikes the policy.

“The bill as presented, I thought, was not a very good deal for the actual people it was supposed to be helping. And that involved largely the fees they were going to be charged,” he said.

Young, who has touted the program, said the state is preparing to launch a pilot to streamline the system for businesses and make it easy for them to enroll. He added that his office is in talks with New Mexico to partner on a similar program there in the hopes of reducing user fees in both states.

“We’re working to minimize the fees and make it easy for businesses,” he said.

Future political aspirations

Since 2010, Sias has run for several political offices. He said, however, that he doesn’t see the treasurer’s office as a stepping stone to higher political office.

“This is a job that I really want to do,” he said. “I think I have the passion for service, I have a very relevant background and I have an interest in the issues

Young didn’t directly say if he plans to run for higher office if he is elected to a second term — “I consider the treasurer higher office,” he joked — but said he loves his work as treasurer.

Why should you vote for them?

In his closing statement, Young said if he is elected to another term he wants to focus on the state’s infrastructure struggles, including affordable housing, education, water and transportation.

“We have what may be approaching a $100 billion problem and I think it’s the treasurer’s role to begin to pull people together and make sure that we can actually can address this problem in a way that gets us out of survival mode,” he said

Sias said his goal is to bring political balance to a state dominated by Democrats, citing stats about Colorado’s growing inflation and budget.

“This has all happened with one party controlling everything,” he said. “No compromise and no conversation, it is time to restore some balance because our state works better with balance.”