DENVER — The two people seeking to be Colorado’s next state treasurer appear to agree, in general terms at least, about that office’s responsibilities.
There are some sharp differences, however, when Republican Mark Hillman and Democrat Cary Kennedy start discussing their own past approaches — and those of their opponent — to state budgets and finances.
Hillman — a former state senator from Burlington who served nearly a year as acting treasurer after being appointed by Gov. Bill Owens to fill in for Treasurer Mike Coffman while Coffman was on military leave — has said: “The most important job for the state treasurer is to be the guardian of the taxpayer.”
Hillman says he’d accomplished that as the state’s acting treasurer, and would resume it if elected to the post, “by investing the public’s money safely and by making sure that the state has the cash it needs to pay its bills.”
Denver Democrat Kennedy — who worked in Gov. Roy Romer’s Office of State Planning and Budgeting, was a fiscal analyst in the Colorado Department of Health Care Policy and Financing and was policy director for the House Democrats — has said: “My first priority as treasurer will be to make sure state funds are invested, managed and spent wisely and that we give taxpayers more information about how their money is being used.”
Kennedy says that as House Speaker Andrew Romanoff’s policy director, she assisted in crafting a budget-stabilization compromise among Democratic legislative leaders, key Republican lawmakers and GOP Gov. Owens — a compromise that voters endorsed last year when they approved Referendum C.
Moderate Republicans inside and outside the Legislature joined Democrats in supporting Referendum C — a five-year “time out” from the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights’ state budget constraints — thereby avoiding hundreds of millions of dollars in further cuts in state programs and services, Kennedy said.
But she’s also pointed out that Hillman, who was Senate majority leader when Republicans controlled the Legislature in 2004 and Senate minority leader last year, wasn’t among those Referendum C supporters.
She said Hillman voted dozens of times for fee increases and accounting “gimmicks” to balance several years’ budgets before the Referendum C compromise, but that he hadn’t joined last year’s “bipartisan budget solution.”
Hillman, for his part, has countered that Referendum C was flawed in that it did not provide short- or long-term solutions to internal state budgeting problems.
One of those problems, Hillman suggests, has been Amendment 23, the state constitutional mandate that voters approved in 2000 to require that the base level of per-student school funding be increased by inflation plus one percentage point each year through mid-2010.
Kennedy was the primary author of Amendment 23, which she says was and is still needed to continue raising Colorado from its near-the-bottom ranks insofar as funding its public schools.
But Hillman has objected that Amendment 23 required automatic increases in school funding while the economy and state revenues slumped during the post-2001 recession — increases he said came at the expense of other state services and programs.
Funding education “should be a priority,” Hillman said, but he added that no part of the state budget should be isolated from other parts if cuts must be made.
He noted that most of the Legislature’s Republican members last year opposed the approach that became Referendum C.
Said Kennedy in one of her campaign news releases: “People want a state treasurer with experience, one who will focus on the bottom line instead of the party line.
“I have over a decade of experience working across party lines to make sure we have the resources to fund education, health care and economic growth for Colorado,” Kennedy said, promising that “I will never take chances with the taxpayer dollar.”
Hillman, who owns and operates a family farm near Burlington, said it’s important “to have the experience of seeing government from both sides,” something he said he’s done as a businessman and as a legislator and acting treasurer.