While all eyes in Denver have been on the big Frackapalooza compromise reached this week, former Rep. Betsy Markey, now the Democratic candidate for state treasurer, has been touring the Western Slope–and previewing her message against GOP incumbent Walker Stapleton with the local press. As the Grand Junction Sentinel's Charles Ashby reported yesterday, and the Durango Herald's Chuck Slothower similarly reports today:
Markey said the only issue Stapleton focuses on is the state’s Public Employees’ Retirement Association, and then only to criticize it, even though it’s working just fine.
“This is a big, dynamic state,” Markey told the editorial board of The Daily Sentinel. “We turn big ideas into reality, and the treasurer’s office should be no different. We can’t just focus on beating down teachers and state workers and their pension program.”
Since taking the job in 2010, Stapleton has been highly critical of the board that oversees PERA, saying its expectation of high returns is unrealistic even though it’s realized 15 percent and 12 percent returns on those investment the past two years, respectively. State treasurers serve on that board as part of their jobs.
Markey, who represented the Eastern Plains in Congress for one term in 2008-09, said problems with PERA’s long-term sustainability were largely addressed by the Legislature years ago, which helped turn the state’s largest public pension system into one of the nation’s best.
Markey is referring to 2010's Senate Bill 1, which significantly increased employee contributions to the Public Employees' Retirement Association, as well as reducing the rate of annual increase for benefits. Representing a major concession by employees in the interest of preserving PERA's solvency, Senate Bill 1 was considered by all parties at the time to be a long-term fix for the nation's 21st largest public pension system.
But it's never been enough for Treasurer Stapleton, who took office the January after Senate Bill 1 was signed into law. Stapleton has continuously harped on the need for the fund to base its projections on a lower rate of return in order to "keep taxpayers off the hook" for PERA pensions. He has continued to demand this even as the fund has blown past its projected rates of return in the last couple of years as the economy has recovered. While a 15% rate of return is not something Colorado's public employee retirees can count on, PERA managers feel comfortable with the rate of return they project for the long term. Last November, PERA lowered its expected rate of return by .5%, but that hasn't stopped Stapleton from continuing to make PERA a campaign issue.
Our shorter answer to this technical debate over PERA's solvency is that we don't have much confidence in Walker Stapleton's opinion on fiscal matters, you know, at all. Try as we might, we just can't get past the fact that this is the same guy who warned of a coming "hyperinflationary environment" in 2010 based on all the supposed fiscal evils being committed by the Obama administration in Washington–actually going as far as to suggest the state should buy gold Glenn Beck-style to stave off this coming disaster.
We've never heard Stapleton's explanation for why this "hyperinflationary environment" never happened. We'd like to, and we hope to sometime between now and November. We get that 2010 was a heady time in Republican politics, and it was necessary to say all kinds of crazy things to win their support–but still. You'll have to forgive us if we can't take Stapleton's word on PERA's rate of return over their actual performance.