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Colorado Treasurer Debate

September 29, 2010

The second Action 22 debate on Saturday, 25 September was the Colorado Treasurer debate. Cary Kennedy (D), the incumbent, debated Walker Stapleton (R).

The opening statement by Kennedy was interesting: after stating that she had taken a prudent, conservative approach to investing state funds, she veered off-topic and talked about building excellent schools. While in the legislature she worked to pass Amendment 23. Amendment 23 bypasses TABOR spending limits and guarantees 5% annual increases in spending for education.

Walker Stapleton gave a quite impassioned speech. He emphasized that Kennedy had agreed 100% of the time with all Governor Ritter’s tax proposals, including the infamous Dirty Dozen “fees.” As the debate progressed, it became clear that one of Stapleton’s main points was that the State Treasurer’s office should be non-partisan and independent but that under Kennedy it is not.

The first question was about preventing budget cuts. Stapleton noted that Colorado needed to get spending under control; Kennedy claimed to support fiscal responsibility and a balanced budget.

The three budget initiatives 60/61/101 came up again as the second question. Kennedy opposed them all, calling them “extreme,” especially the limitation on debt and the balanced budget provision. (Yes, I know that contradicts her previous statement…) She felt they would trigger big deficits and would eventually lower state bond ratings which are currently good.  It occurs to me that if we don’t borrow money, ratings don’t matter all that much, but I digress.

Stapleton thought that the initiatives were an understandable reaction to un-voted tax increases–TABOR requires a vote of the people for tax increases–but felt that these initiatives were not good solutions to the problem.

There was an interesting question on education funding. Kennedy was a prime mover behind Amendment 23; her position was clear. Stapleton was against the automatic increases. It has been shown repeatedly that throwing money at education doesn’t improve learning and that is true in Colorado as well.

Regarding higher education, Kennedy said that the state should make sure that people can afford to go to college, that it should be made “affordable to the middle class.” Stapleton described how higher ed was being shortchanged because Amendment 23 was siphoning money from there for K-12 education.

There was a discussion of transparency: Kennedy said that the treasurer’s office was transparent, putting the entire state budget online. Stapleton countered that what was online amounted to a lot of “information” with no “intelligence.”

The last question was about the impact of energy job losses. Stapleton too the opportunity to point to the 100,000 jobs lost in the past three years and said that elected officials ought to be business people instead of lawyers. He highlighted his business and finance background and contrasted it with Kennedy’s law and career politician’s. Kennedy didn’t address the question in her answer.

It was interesting as the debates proceeded–and even more striking as I re-read my notes–how the Democrat candidates tried to pass themselves off as fiscal conservatives, each reading from the same playbook. And they use the word “extreme” to describe any idea they disagree with. All the spending, of course, is either for the children or for the middle class.

I had not heard either of them speak before. I had to give the debate to Stapleton with his financial background and common sense approach to the problems.

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