Idaho Treasurer Ron Crane rebuffed Senate Finance Committee Chairman Dean Cameron’s questions Monday about why he decided to make an investment transfer that legislative auditors say cost Idaho taxpayers $10.2 million and could cost millions more.
Crane appeared Monday for his annual budget hearing before the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee, three days after the news that the state’s general fund taxpayers may lose $27 million because of Crane’s decision to protect a fund he manages for cities and counties.
Cameron, R-Rupert, said he had no criticism of Crane’s decision to “ride out the storm” as mortgage-backed securities tanked in 2008. But he pointedly asked why he favored the fund for local governments, the Local Government Investment Pool, over the “Idle Pool” for state general funds.
“No criticism, at least from my perspective, should be there for riding the storm; I think that was the appropriate strategy,” Cameron told Crane. “Again, the question is the transfer. Not riding the storm for LGIP but forcing the taxpayer to ride out the storm for both accounts.”
Cameron asked the question twice, but Crane referred him to his written response to last week’s audit, where he accused legislative auditors of unfairly second-guessing his decisions and “using this platform for political purposes.”
“My response to the audit is in there,” said Crane. “We put a lot of detail as to why that transfer took place and what the process was. I don’t want to stand here today and try to recall off the top of my head all those details. but I would refer you to the audit.”
Cameron told Crane, “I truly believe you were trying to do the best you could,” but suggested reforming the manner that the elected treasurer manages about $3 billion in public assets.
Should the treasurer have an investment board, as do two other large state funds, the Endowment Fund and Public Employees Retirement System of Idaho, Cameron asked?
Cameron asked Crane whether such a board “reviewing, monitoring and authorizing any changes in investment policy rather than allowing just one person to override what obviously was wise investment policy to begin with” might be a better model.
Replied Crane: “I don’t think the board would change the market conditions. We have done the best that we know how to do and our staff has done a yoeman’s job….I’m very proud of them.”
After his appearance, Crane exited the hearing room and declined to speak to reporters about follow up questions. His chief of staff, Laura Steffler, said questions should be submitted in writing.
A Republican from Nampa, Crane did say he plans to seek a fifth term four-year this year. He is the only declared candidate of any party and has $24,600 banked for re-election.