The Chieftain endorses Watson for treasurer

Read the original article on the Pueblo Chieftain HERE: https://www.chieftain.com/news/the-chieftain-endorses-watson-for-treasurer/article_40de1d46-c43d-11e8-b686-1715f5b9b366.html

The treasurer’s office isn’t one of the higher profile positions in Colorado state government. In fact, we’re guessing that a substantial number of Coloradans don’t even know what the treasurer does.

The job is extremely important, however. The treasurer is responsible for managing the state’s investments on a taxpayer-funded portfolio worth about $6 billion. The treasurer’s office administers the state’s division of unclaimed property, which connects people with money from inheritances, closed bank accounts, refunded security deposits and the like that is rightfully theirs. The treasurer also sits on the board which oversees the state’s pension fund for public employees, which — like many public pension funds around the country — faces significant challenges.

Current Treasurer Walker Stapleton is vacating the office to run for governor, so this is an open seat. Dave Young, the Democratic nominee, is a state House of Representatives member who serves on the powerful Joint Budget Committee. In that role, he’s had an opportunity to develop a closer understanding of the state’s finances than most people.

However, when we interviewed Young, he offered few specifics on changes he would make to the state’s investment strategy or reforms to the Public Employees Retirement Association of Colorado, also known as PERA. That suggests to us that either he doesn’t have many specific ideas, or he does but chose not to share them with us. That’s not a good sign in either case.

Young also seems to be interested in expanding the role of the treasurer’s office, using it as a bully pulpit to address other issues in state government that he deems important. If that’s his goal, he would be better suited to remain in the Colorado Legislature, which can and does address a wide range of issues.

His Republican opponent, Brian Watson, is a real estate developer who comes from humble beginnings in a small town on the Western Slope. Watson says his company, North Star Commercial Properties, manages a portfolio of commercial and other non-residential properties valued at $1.3 billion. After a career of handling the assets of private investors, he wants to turn his attention to managing the public’s assets.

In contrast to his opponent, Watson offers a number of specific ideas about changes he would make as treasurer. He would like to scale back foreign investments and increase domestic holdings, particularly here in Colorado.

To make PERA more solvent, he would consider increasing the retirement age for public employees. He also would explore the possibility of developing a “hybrid” model of retirement benefits for new employees, with some money allocated to 401(k)s or similar plans as opposed to all of it going directly into defined pension payments. Over time, this would reduce the liability taxpayers would have for funding PERA.

Watson wants to increase public awareness about the unclaimed property program through initiatives such as drawing media attention, where appropriate, to unusual claims that are settled.

Watson’s critics point to a couple of his business ventures that have run into financial problems, but for someone running a company with more than $1 billion in assets, that’s like criticizing the league-leading Boston Red Sox for losing a game for every two they win.

The Pueblo Chieftain endorses Brian Watson for Colorado state treasurer.