If you’re a reporter, it’s tough to be fair when the person you’re writing about won’t talk to you, but The Denver Post’s John Frank did the best he could in an article Sunday about State Treasurer Walker Stapleton.
Stapleton, who declined to be interviewed for Frank’s story, is clearly on record supporting legislation this session allowing him to issue bonds to make money for the state’s public retirement system. But speaking on conservative talk radio after the bill died, Stapleton denied ever supporting the legislation. The question is, why?
Frank points out that one reason for Stapleton’s about-face is pressure from conservatives who are wary of debt. That’s charitable to Stapleton. Actually, Stapleton admitted on the radio that he was under pressure from conservatives who want only to reduce expenses of retirement programs (higher age of retirement or contribution, lower pay outs). Stapleton’s bill intended to increase PERA’s revenue, so that the retirement system would be stronger and have a better chance at functioning as promised. This pissed off the conservatives, whose apparent underlying goal is to weaken or kill public pension programs.
Stapleton’s own explanation for his apparent hypocrisy is, as Frank reported, that he “supported the bill to give him the authority to issue bonds but not the issuance of bonds.”
This didn’t impress The Post’s Vincent Carroll, who wrote last week:
Actually, the legislation had everything to do with issuing bonds. You don’t give the state authority to do something unless you anticipate that it will exercise that power at some point and are comfortable with that possibility. And this bill wasn’t a permanent authority. It expired on Dec. 31, 2018, roughly when Stapleton will leave office. Obviously the bill contemplated Stapleton himself signing off on bonds at some point.
Frank produced evidence showing that Stapleton thought actually issuing the bonds was a good idea if “done in a prudent and conservative manner.”
On KLZ 560-AM’s nooner show, hosted by Ken Clark, Stapleton got even more specific, identifying a financial window during which he was prepared to issue the bonds.
“We had a provision that we would not even consider issuing the bonds if the arbitrage wasn’t at least a two-point spread.” (Listen to the KLZ interview at 4:25 below.)
You don’t need to know what an arbitrage is to see that Stapleton was happy and ready to consider issuing the bonds under very specific circumstances–if the arbitrage was at least a two-point spread. Case closed.
It makes sense that Stapleton would have specific circumstances in mind because Stapleton’s office helped draft the bill, and on the radio, he bragged about the bill requirements he insisted on. He wanted and got veto power on whether to issue bonds at all and how many. (Listen to the KLZ interview below beginning 40 seconds into it.)
Toward the end of his KLZ interview, Stapleton was more direct in explaining the conservative arguments that apparently won him over between the time that he favored issuing bonds and then denied favoring issuing them.
Stapleton (@7 minutes below): I’ve talked to a lot of people about this issue since it began, and someone made a very good point to me. And that was, and I think this is an interesting point now that this has died, if we really want to address lasting pension reform, we have to deal with the expense of the system that’s been created. We have to deal with it on the expense side and not the revenue side. And this bill attempted to flood PERA with revenues to make up for the shortfall, but it didn’t bring any structural reforms on the expense side.”
So he’s saying that he’s now not interested in intelligent fiscal management of the state pension system–only in taking away benefits. But it looks like Stapleton didn’t want to talk to The Post’s Frank about this or anything else.
Walker Stapleton on KLZ 560-AM’s Freedom 560, May 5, 2014.
Walker Stapleton on KOA’s Mike Rosen Show May 5, 2015