In October, Colorado State Treasurer Dave Young plans to launch a pilot program designed to help Coloradans save money for retirement.
The aim of the program, passed into law in 2020, is to help people who “work their entire life and end up without enough savings for retirement, and their social security is not enough,” Young told the Colorado Times Recorder in August.
Companies with five or more employees and without a retirement savings program would auto-enroll their workers in a Roth IRA opt-out program. Freelancers and businesses with fewer than five employees could also participate in the program – as an opt-in, as opposed to an auto-enroll program, said Young.
As a state lawmaker, Lang Sias, Young’s Republican opponent in this year’s race to be Colorado’s Treasurer, voted against the retirement program twice, in 2017 and 2018.
Sias told the Colorado Times Recorder that the sponsors of the retirement bill “did not make a convincing case that their government program would benefit employees more than private sector alternatives,” and that he was also concerned about “high administrative costs to be paid by employees.”
Colorado is collaborating with other states’ savings programs to lower costs, said Young, adding that employees can choose to opt out if they wish.
As further evidence that the program makes fiscal sense, Young points to a state study, which determined that services, such as housing, food assistance, and Medicaid, for people without sufficient retirement savings would cost state and federal taxpayers $18 billion. Young said, “It’s not a government handout; it’s a hand-up with [employees’] own resources.”
Sias said, if elected treasurer, he would “increase transparency, accountability, and commonsense economic policy.”
He’s especially focused on the Public Employees Retirement Association (PERA), having served on PERA’s oversight committee for the past three years.
Sias criticized Young for voting against PERA reforms in 2018. He accused Young of having a “conflict of interest” – as Treasurer Young serves on the PERA board of directors (as required by the office) while also being a PERA beneficiary (as a longtime public employee). Young taught math, science, and technology in Greeley, from 1976-1999. He later returned to public higher education where he taught at the University of Colorado-Denver for nearly a decade.
Young said the “conflict of interest” charge is “absurd and offensive” and that as treasurer, he serves in multiple roles.
“I care deeply about PERA’s success, and I take my fiduciary duties seriously,” he said. “I also feel a financial and legal duty to taxpayers of Colorado. My first job is to protect taxpayer money. I take both jobs very seriously. I’m not sure he understands the statutes I adhere to.”
Young explained why he voted against the proposed PERA reforms Sias cited.
“The bill he’s referring to was brought for a vote in the 11th hour, of the last day of the legislative session in 2018,” Young said. “The actual language we were asked to vote on was not available. None of the financials had been distributed. But we were asked to vote. I wanted to look at the language and the numbers, to be sure of the outcomes – not just take someone’s word for it. I’m not voting for something I haven’t read or analyzed. Maybe he had access, but not the General Assembly.”
Sias is a former Navy and National Guard fighter pilot and attorney, who currently works as a pilot for FedEx. He said he was motivated to run for treasurer after “seeing the consequences of single-party rule in Washington and at the state level.”
“In 2018, the pendulum swung to the left,” he said. “I think the state works better when the state has balance.”
Sias ran unsuccessfully for Congress in 2010 and the state Senate in ’12 and ’14 before being selected by a Republican vacancy committee to complete the statehouse term of Libby Szabo in 2015. He then was then elected to that seat (HD27) in 2016, before joining Walker Stapleton’s losing gubernatorial ticket in 2018.
“The treasurer can use its bully pulpit of that office to weigh in,” Sias said. “We face a real affordability crisis here. In the treasurer’s office itself, we’ve seen an increase of full-time employees jump 50% in three years. I will take a close look at why the increase.”
In 2020, the Legislature passed a budget that added five positions to the treasury office to help administer Colorado’s new retirement program.
“The Legislature controls the money,” Young said. “They say, ‘These are the policies; here’s the money.’ The executive branch’s [Treasurer’s] job is to make it happen. We take the charge seriously. We follow the law, and hire people to implement it. We don’t just hire without approval.”
Sias and Young also disagree on TABOR, a law that limits the amount of revenue that the state can retain and spend. TABOR requires that surplus revenue above a certain cap must be returned to taxpayers.
In 2019, Young was a proponent of Proposition CC, which would have amended Colorado statues to allow the state government to keep all of the money it collects every year, beginning in the 2019-20 state budget year. It would have required that any money the government keeps over its existing revenue limit be spent for public schools, higher education, and transportation projects, rather than returned to taxpayers. The measure was defeated by 7%, and Colorado is now in the process of sending out refunds to taxpayers.
Gov. Jared Polis, a Democrat, signed a law this year to give rebates to individual taxpayers this summer, instead of waiting until spring 2023. The law also mandated that all taxpayers be given $750, instead of returning more money to wealthier taxpayers who paid more taxes.
“We created a cash-back program to get those refunds back earlier to people; we know people are struggling now,” Young said.
Sias claims Young is taking credit for fighting inflation with the refund, while voting for Proposition CC, and opposing TABOR refunds in general.
“TABOR has created problems,” Young said. “Our state budget is in crisis. We have the lowest salaries for teachers in the country. We are now losing teachers to other states, to the private sector. We don’t have the finances. Disabled people are not having their needs met. We’ve been in a downward slide for 30 years. I don’t want to spend money frivolously, but we need to meet essential needs and TABOR has not allowed us.”
Regardless of his view on TABOR’s financial impact on Colorado, Young says TABOR is in the Constitution and he takes the law seriously.
“The Colorado Legislature devised the [Cash-back] program, and I support it – to give people the refund back now, not next year,” he said.
Young is concerned that Sias would align himself with GOP state treasurers around the country and hurt Colorado.
For example, some Republican state treasurers across the country are trying to block efforts to combat climate change, by canceling public contracts or pulling investments from firms they deem to be moving away from fossil fuels. Sias has rejected action to stop climate in the past.
“If Sias wins and becomes treasurer, he too could join the ranks of these Republican treasurers across the country and cause real, lasting damage to the state of Colorado,” Young said.