Colorado Improves Debt Compliance and Builds Trust With Legislators Using OpenGov

POPULATION: 5,400,000  |  AGENCY TYPE: State Agency  |  ANNUAL BUDGET: $24.1 billion

Each day, local governments and state agencies issue nearly $1 billion in municipal bonds. The proceeds of these bond sales build hospitals and schools, subsidize university tuition, fund critical infrastructure, and help governments provide their citizens with public services.

Colorado is no exception. The state has issued hundreds of millions of dollars of debt to fund everything from public universities to transportation projects. But until recently, the Colorado Treasurer’s Office had no way to explore and report on its debt obligations from a central system. In this case study, you’ll learn how Colorado used OpenGov to unify its debt data, improve compliance to avoid future Securities Exchange Commission (SEC) action, and build trust with legislators.


Fragmented Debt Data Caused Compliance Issues and Hampered Engagement with the Legislature


Walker Stapleton, Colorado’s Treasurer, describes the “piecemeal” way Colorado examined its debt. Each time legislators, bondholders or regulators required information, “the scramble began”, says Stapleton. He was required to pull data from fragmented, disconnected systems, then use Microsoft Excel to reconcile his own calculations with those obtained from third party sources. “There wasn’t a central system; just me, creating spreadsheets and doing my best to centralize what I had.”

OpenGov lets the Colorado Treasurer's Office break down its revenues for specific revenue sources with one click.

OpenGov visualizes the year's expenditure data by category.

This decentralization caused Colorado to miss important reporting deadlines for the Municipalities Continuing Disclosure Cooperation Initiative (MCDC). The initiative was implemented by the SEC in 2014 in response to investor concerns about the quality and timeliness of important financial data related to municipal bonds. But because Colorado had no singular, consolidated source of debt information, releasing accurate data to the SEC on time proved impossible.

Eventually, the SEC sanctioned Colorado for inadequate disclosure and issued a cease and desist order from committing future violations. “We had to agree that we would never fail to disclose again,” explains Stapleton. If Colorado continued to rely solely on spreadsheets and manual reconciliation, it would risk significant penalty. But if the state continued to rely solely on disparate spreadsheets and manual reconciliation of different sources to compile its reports, failure would be likely occur again.

Aside from the legal implications, Colorado’s scattered debt data made it impossible for Stapleton to answer legislators’ questions in a timely manner. He previously had to comb through multiple files and rely on colleagues in different departments for help. Despite his best efforts, he could rarely provide swift answers. Amidst one such inquiry, a prominent legislator pointed out that the Treasury was his only source for this information. Unfortunately, Stapleton could often only respond to legislators’ calls with: “I’ll call you with the answer next week.”


OpenGov Centralizes and Modernizes Colorado’s Debt Data


Colorado had no choice. It had to act. Stapleton describes how “OpenGov came along and I soon realized it would be the perfect tool to help us meet our disclosure requirements, and [avoid] a fire drill every time a legislator asks us a question.”

OpenGov provides a single, clear snapshot of Colorado's debt profile by size, type, and maturity.

The OpenGov Customer Success team worked closely with Stapleton to implement the software and centralize Colorado’s debt data quickly. Now, Stapleton and his staff can view, explore, and report on Colorado’s debt information in one place. And because OpenGov is dynamic and not just a data repository, Stapleton can pivot his view of historical bond issues by account number and funding purpose, giving him the ability to visualize debt in powerful new ways. For example, he can now view pension debt issued by various different departments in a single report, instead of manually compiling and adding up values in Excel.


OpenGov Streamlines Colorado’s Debt Compliance


Another major advantage of centralizing its bond data is simple and reliable compliance. Stapleton now “takes financial information right from OpenGov [in] the format” he needs. This lets him actively manage outstanding debt. MCDC penalties can reach up to $60,000 per bond issue, and “having already settled with the SEC once, the next time there’d be a fine or something worse. OpenGov has alleviated the problem and the stress of debt issuance.”


Legislators Get Rapid Answers to Debt Questions


“Now everything’s at my fingertips,” says Stapleton, “I can search for information quickly.” He continues: “The same legislators who used to wait a week for results were shocked when I could get the answer that they typically need in literally seconds. It’s easy to give legislators the information they need while I’m on the phone with them.”

OpenGov puts visualizations of debt issuance by issuer, counsel, and more in one place.

Legislators call Stapleton “at least once a week” for debt information, so this change has “without a doubt saved me hours of time compiling answers to questions on Colorado’s debt.” It has also made legislators keener to inquire and delve deeper to inform decision-making and craft better policy, since data is now more accessible.


Colorado Can Focus on Strategic Priorities


With the state’s debt information consolidated, stored and updated on OpenGov’s secure platform, Stapleton and his state’s lawmakers can now focus on strategy and crafting policy. Time once spent compiling data and searching for answers is now focused on strategic priorities, including a revamp of internal management policies that were “decades out of date.” Colorado’s embrace of OpenGov’s modern, cloud-based technology to solve mission-critical problems will save time, avoid possible penalties, create efficiencies, and empower public servants to do what they do best: improve the lives of their citizens.

Conclusion

It isn’t an easy decision for a state to issue debt. Bonds drive key initiatives, but also lead to serious financial ramifications if improperly managed. By consolidating its debt data to improve exploration, reporting, and analysis, the Colorado Treasurer’s Office ensures it can manage debt with the forward thinking necessary to ensure sound financial management in the 21st century.

Results

  • Replaced dozens of fragmented, error-prone spreadsheets with a single source of accurate debt information

  • Improved compliance and oversight through accurate reporting and analysis, reducing the risk of financial penalty and negative press

  • Built credibility with legislators by supporting their objectives with fast and accurate answers

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