The PERA Pay Back

In 2020, while facing a $3.3 billion budget deficit due to the COVID pandemic, the General Assembly cut its $225 million direct contribution to PERA. This annual contribution is required under SB18-200 to make up for the state’s past underfunding of PERA. Later that year, as revenue returned, the General Assembly restored funding for many of programs and projects that it had to cut, except for the $225 million direct contribution for PERA. When PERA posted a 17.4% rate of return for 2020, the loss of the $225 million was exacerbated.

Fast forward to this fall, the Pension Review Commission, which oversees the Fire and Police Pension Association (FPPA) and PERA, approved a bill draft that would pay back that missed 2020 contribution plus lost earnings for a total of $303.57 million. This direct contribution would be in addition to the $225 million direct contribution required for 2022. The bill draft is set to be bipartisan and carried by Representatives Shannon Bird and Shane Sandridge and Senators Chris Kolker and Kevin Priola.

The bill draft isn’t official yet. It must be approved by the Legislative Council of the General Assembly, an oversight committee comprised of party leadership that reviews all legislation developed by interim committees such as the Pension Review Commission. If the Legislative Council approves the bill draft, it will be introduced in the 2022 session starting in January.

Secure PERA’s top priorities for 2022 are ensuring the state makes it annual $225 million direct contribution and pays back the missed 2020 direct contribution.

Why is this important? The state’s direct contribution is a critical component of the plan to reach full funding by 2040. In addition to increases in employee and employer contributions and reduction in the COLA for retirees, the state committed in SB18-200 to make this annual contribution. Without this annual contribution, there will be more adjustments that will be needed, and public employees and retirees will have to carry that burden.

Strong Returns for 2020, but Auto-Adjust Still Triggered

This month, PERA released its 2020 Comprehensive Annual Financial Report, also known as the “CAFR”. The CAFR provides a full summary of how PERA and its investments performed each year and the overall funded status of the pension plan. It is released every June.

Despite the tumultuous year, PERA’s rate of return for 2020 was 17.4%. This is significantly higher than the 7.25% assumed rate of return that PERA uses for its benchmarking and future planning.

Even with this high rate of return, employee and employer contributions rates will increase and retirees’ annual increase will drop again starting in July 2022. That’s because last November, PERA adjusted some of their main assumptions, namely that PERA participants are living longer than expect and the workforce has not increased as previously assumed. These changes have such an impact on the long-term costs of PERA that last year’s rate of 17.4% could not offset them. Therefore, the auto-adjust provision will get triggered to put PERA’s funded status back on track.

According to PERA’s CAFR, the number of years, or projected amortization period, that it will take until each division is fully funded increased from where it was in 2019. With the implementation of an auto-adjust provision, the amortization period improves as detailed in this chart.

Division 2018 2019 2020 2020 (with AA)
State 28 22 23 20
School 34 24 26 22
Local Government 29 14 11 8
Judicial 21 12 8 7
Denver Public Schools 17 11 8 7

Starting in July 2022, employee and employer rates will increase by 0.5% and the annual increase for retirees will decrease by .25%. The following chart from PERA’s 2020 CAFR details the changes.

The continued auto-adjustments, particularly after two years of double-digit rates of returns, highlight the challenges that continue to face PERA – primarily past years of government underfunding the pension. The state legislature’s decision to not make its 2020 contribution of $225 million is the most recent example. PERA’s actuaries noted that the loss of this contribution meant a $990 million long-term loss to the pension overall due to not having the investment returns or compounding interests that the $225 million would have generated over time. The Colorado Sun covered the board meeting and issue here.

State Legislature Renews its Commitment to PERA

The Governor will soon sign the 2021-2022 state budget. Last week, the Colorado Legislature finalized its work on the $34.1 billion budget, which funds many of the programs that were cut last year, sets aside additional funds for next year, and renews the state’s commitment to the long-term viability of PERA.

This means the state will make its $225 million obligation on July 1, 2021 and already has the money set aside to pay it next year as well. These actions are being done through two bills – the “Long Bill”, SB21-205, and a companion bill, SB21-228.

Thank you to the Secure PERA members who advocated with JBC members and legislators and sent more than 2,600 emails to make this happen. Your efforts had a big impact!

Secure PERA announces its PERA Board of Trustee endorsements

Secure PERA is proud to endorse four candidates this year for the PERA Board of Trustees. PERA is managed by a 15-member Board of Trustees. Eleven of the trustees are elected by PERA participants. The others are appointed by the Governor, except for the State Treasurer, who serves on the board as part of their elected position.

Beginning May 3, PERA will send out ballots to all PERA participants who are in divisions with elections. This year, there are elections in the State, School and Retiree divisions. PERA members have until May 31 to vote.

The following candidates measured up on Secure PERA’s values and beliefs on public pensions. You can read their official PERA bios here (as well as the bios of all candidates running).

State Division
  • Brian Tapley
School Division
  • Tina Mueh
  • Marcus Pennell
Retiree Division
  • Julie Friedemann

What does the PERA Board of Trustees do? Read more about it here.

Focusing on the State’s Direct Contribution to PERA

The Colorado Legislature is hard at work this year. A top priority for Secure PERA is to ensure the state funds its $225 million direct contribution to PERA this year. This annual contribution was agreed to as part of SB18-200 to make up for the state’s past underfunding of PERA. Last year, while facing a $3.3 billion deficit, the Legislature cut the 2020 contribution.

In November, the Governor released his 2021-2022 budget request and included the $225 million direct contribution. Since then, the powerful Joint Budget Committee has been working to prepare the state budget and, thanks to the advocacy of our Secure PERA members, has pledged to include the contribution for the 2021-2022 budget.

Next up, the Joint Budget Committee will receive an updated revenue forecast for the state before finalizing the budget. After that, they will introduce the “Long Bill”, which is another name for the state budget. This year, the “Long Bill” will start in the Senate before proceeding to the House.

We will keep watch throughout the process to ensure the direct contribution is maintained. In the meantime, we encourage you to attend your legislators’ (virtual) town hall meetings and continue to ask about their support for PERA and the $225 million direct constibution. The best way to know about these events is to sign up for their newsletters. You can google your legislators to find their campaign websites and then sign up for their emails.

Colorado’s Pension Review Subcommittee

As part of SB18-200, the Legislature created the Pension Review Subcommittee to be another set of eyes on PERA. While it has no authority over PERA, it does serve to review PERA’s progress and make recommendations to the PERA Board of Trustees and to the Legislature.

The Pension Review Subcommittee is under the Pension Review Commission, which was previously called the Police Officers’ and Firefighters’ Pension Reform Commission. SB18-200 expanded the scope of the commission from overseeing just the Fire and Police Pension Association (FPPA) to also overseeing PERA and established the subcommittee.

The subcommittee is comprised of four legislators, who also serve on the commission, and ten members with external expertise. These ten members are appointed as follows:

  • The Governor appoints one member,
  • The Treasurer appoints one member,
  • The Senate President appoints two members,
  • The Senate Minority Leader appoints two members,
  • The Speaker of the House appoints two members, and
  • The House Minority Leader appoints two members.

These members must have “experience or knowledge of investment management, corporate or public finance, compensation and benefit systems, economics, accounting, pension administration, or actuarial analysis.”

What is their charge?

The Pension Review Subcommittee is tasked with reviewing PERA’s overall financial health, their actuarial assumptions and progress to reaching full funding by 2048. They can make recommendations to the commission or PERA about their analysis and ways to improve the system.

The subcommittee began its work in 2019 and then paused in 2020 due to the pandemic when all interim committees were halted for the year. In 2021, the subcommittee is taking on the task of conducting an analysis of PERA’s efforts to reach full funding by 2048. It recently contracted with GRS, a national actuarial and benefits consulting firm, to do this analysis. Work on this project is just getting started.

In December of last year, PERA released its 2020 “Experience Study”. This study is done every four years and is used to set the actuarial assumptions, which are the underlying factors that affect PERA’s projections. The subcommittee’s review will include an analysis of this study, PERA’s overall assumptions and their projections.

You can learn more about the Pension Review Subcommittee on the Colorado Legislature’s website, including who serves on the Subcommittee now and their meeting information.

Secure PERA Announces 2020 Endorsements

Secure PERA is proud to announce our bi-partisan endorsements for the November 2020 election. Below you will find their websites so you can learn more about the candidates, volunteer for them and donate.

Office

District

Candidate

Website

State Senate

8

Bob Rankin

www.votebobrankin.com

State Senate

10

Randi McCallian

randiforcolorado.com

State Senate

14

Joann Ginal

joannginal.org

State Senate

19

Rachel Zenzinger

www.rachelforcolorado.com

State Senate

21

Dominick Moreno

www.dominickmoreno.com

State Senate

23

Sally Boccella

www.sallyforcolorado.com

State Senate

25

Paula Dickerson

www.paulaforcolorado.com

State Senate

26

Jeff Bridges

www.bridgesforcolorado.com

State Senate

27

Chris Kolker

www.kolkerforcolorado.com

State Senate

28

Janet Buckner

janetbuckner.com

State Senate

33

James Coleman

colemanforcolorado.com

State House

3

Meg Froelich

www.froelichforcolorado.com

State House

4

Serena Gonzales-Gutierrez

serenaforcolorado.com

State House

5

Alex Valdez

www.valdezforcolorado.com

State House

6

Steven Woodrow

www.woodrowforco.com

State House

9

Emily Sirota

www.emilyforcolorado.com

State House

10

Edie Hooton

www.ediehooton.com

State House

11

Karen McCormick

karenforco.com

State House

12

Tracey Bernett

traceybernett.com

State House

13

Judith Amabile

judyamabile.com

State House

14

John Foley

foleyforhd14.org

State House

17

Tony Exum

www.tonyexum.com

State House

18

Mark Snyder

www.snyderforcolorado.com

State House

20

Terri Carver

terricarver.org

State House

21

Mary Bradfield

www.marybradfield.com

State House

21

Liz Rosenbaum

www.lizrosenbaum.com

State House

22

Mary Parker

parkerforcolorado.com

State House

23

Chris Kennedy

www.kennedy4co.com

State House

24

Monica Duran

www.monicaduran.com

State House

25

Lisa Cutter

www.cutterforcolorado.com

State House

26

Dylan Roberts

www.dylanroberts.org

State House

27

Brianna Titone

www.briannaforco.com

State House

29

Lindsey Daugherty

www.lindseyforcolorado.com

State House

31

Yadira Caraveo

caraveoforcolorado.com

State House

33

Matt Gray

www.matthewgray.us

State House

34

Kyle Mullica

kylemullica.com

State House

35

Shannon Bird

www.shannonbirdforcolorado.com

State House

36

Mike Weissman

www.mikeweissman.com

State House

37

Caroline Cornell

www.carolineforcolorado.com

State House

37

Tom Sullivan

sullivanforcolorado.com

State House

38

David Ortiz

www.davidortizcolorado.com

State House

39

Ian Chapman

www.ianchapmancohd39.com

State House

40

Naquetta Ricks

www.ricks4co.com

State House

42

Dominique Jackson

jacksonforcolorado.com

State House

43

Kevin Van Winkle

vanwinkleforcolorado.com

State House

43

Jennifer Mitkowski

www.jennforcolorado.com

State House

46

Daneya Esgar

www.daneyaesgar.com

State House

47

Bri Buentello

www.bri4colorado.com

State House

48

Holly Herson

hollyfor48.com

State House

49

Yara Zokaie

www.yaraforcolorado.com

State House

50

Mary Young

maryyoungforcolorado.com

State House

52

Cathy Kipp

cathykipp.com

State House

54

Alice Marie Slaven-Emond

alicemarieforhd54.wordpress.com

State House

55

Scott Beilfuss

www.scottfor55.com

State House

57

Perry Will

 

State House

59

Barbara McLachlan

barbaramclachlan.com

State House

60

Lori Boydston

www.lorihd60.com

State House

61

Julie McCluskie

mccluskieforco.com

State House

63

Genevieve Schneider

genforhd63.com

Impact of the 2020 Legislative Session on PERA

This week, Secure PERA and our coalition partner, CSPERA, hosted a webinar with over a 100 PERA retirees from across the state.

Rep. Julie McCluskie, who serves on the powerful Joint Budget Committee and represents House District 61 covering Delta, Lake, Gunnison, Pitkin and Summit Counties, joined us to discuss the 2020 budget and what it meant for PERA.

Ron Baker, Executive Director of PERA, provided an update on the status of the pension system and how the market changes and the loss of the $225 million contribution from the state could impact retiree benefits going forward.

You can watch a recording of the webinar here.  Presentations from the webinar can be found here.

PERA’s 2019 Returns – Good News in Tough Times

At the end of June, PERA released its annual CAFR report, which reviews PERA’s investment performance for the previous year and funded status of the plan. PERA reported their second highest return in the past 20 years! In 2019, their investments grew by 20.3%, far exceeding the assumed 7.25% annual return.

This is good news as it means that at the end of 2019, the plan’s unfunded liability was reduced and the number of years that it would take to get to “full funding” improved. SB18-200 set the goal of full funding within 30 years. The chart below, from PERA’s 2019 CAFR report, tracks the changes from 2018 valuation results to 2019 results, including the state budget impacts.

However, PERA also warned that the quick downturn of the markets this year due the impact of the pandemic, which caused an 11% drop in investments so far, plus the actions by the state legislature to balance the state budget will hurt that unfunded liability. Further, depending on the how the markets play out over the rest of the year will determine if there will be more adjustments needed to keep the plan on track. Fortunately, the investment returns from 2019 provide a strong starting point.

State Budget Cuts Impact PERA

The Colorado Legislature is in the final stages of passing the 2020-2021 state budget. Facing an unprecedented revenue loss and the constitutional requirement for a balanced budget, the legislature had to cut $3.3 billion from the state budget.

As we shared earlier, there were several proposals recommend reducing the state’s payments to PERA including:

  • Suspend the FY20-21 payment of $225 million.
  • Move the payment date for the $225 million from first day of each fiscal year (July 1) to the last day (June 30). Combined with the first action, this would mean PERA would not receive this payment until June 30, 2022.
  • Delay the 2020 Auto Adjust for one year. The auto adjust feature is set to kick in July 2020 with a .5% increase for both employers and employees.
  • Shift at least 2.5% and up to 5% of the state’s employer PERA costs onto state employees and delay the state employee PERA increases. This would result in a reduction in salary for employees of between 1.25% to 3.75%.

In the end, the Legislature limited its actions to just two:

  • Suspend the FY20-21 payment of $225 million. This is a one-time suspension and any future suspensions would require additional legislative action.
  • For the Judicial Division only, they decreased the employer contribution rate for employers by 5% and increases the member contribution rate for employees by 5% for two years. This resulted in a cost savings of $2.7 million for each year.

There is no doubt that these actions, plus the additional cuts to state employees and educators, will have a significant impact on PERA. In fact, PERA testified in opposition to the bills that carried out these cuts: HB20-1379 and HB20-1394. You can read their testimony here and here. PERA also previously provided data and projections to the JBC on the impact of the proposed cuts, which you can read here.

As you can see from PERA’s projections to the JBC, they are estimating a rate of return 20% for 2019, which is substantially higher than the estimated 7.25% annual assumed rate of return. (PERA will officially release its CAFR later this month, which will provide the 2019 rate of return and other updates on the health of the system.) This is welcome news as we are looking at significant declines in the market over the past few months plus these state budget cuts. However, we fully expect the events to trigger calls from anti-pension advocates who will once more try to undermine the system.