State retirement plan in peril, official says

State Treasurer Walker Stapleton emphasized a need for solvency and transparency in the Colorado Public Employees’ Retirement Association system Monday afternoon in Grand Junction.

Stapleton visited with area school board members and school executives at the DoubleTree Hotel after a regional meeting of the Colorado Association of School Boards. Stapleton said he sees two “chief problems” with the PERA system: 1. He doesn’t feel the system has “meaningful transparency,” and 2. He believes the state is “operating under the false premise” that 2010’s Senate Bill 1 will generate enough money to cover all public benefit payouts in the future.

Senate Bill 1, introduced by former Grand Junction Republican Sen. Josh Penry, decreased new benefits and mandated increases in employer contributions to help shore up PERA funding. Stapleton said the legislation doesn’t go far enough.

“Senate Bill 1 allows them to say, ‘We fixed this, don’t bother us,’ ” Stapleton said.

But he worries an anticipated 8 percent return on investments will not come true for PERA, which he said has $21 billion of catching up to do.

“If something sounds too good to be true, it often is. My fear is this is not something that’s sustainable for our kids,” he said.

District 51 School Board member Jeff Leany said he has run the math on PERA contributions and payouts and there’s “no way you can make the numbers work.”

“Perhaps we go to more of a market-based-type deal,” he suggested.

Last June, Stapleton requested the executive director of PERA, Meredith Williams, provide him with information about the top 20 percent of recipients, as measured by the annual amount of benefits they receive, including age and year of retirement, annual benefit amount, the salary they earned in the past five years of state employment and ZIP codes where beneficiaries live. The request was denied and led to Stapleton filing a lawsuit. A Denver County District Court judge denied that request in April.

However, documents are available on the association’s website listing average monthly benefits of all members and new members, total payouts, and other information. Eighty-five percent of 2011 recipients received $10,000 to $99,999, according to PERA’s most recent financial report.

District 51 School Board President Greg Mikolai suggested that the board extend an invitation to speak with PERA Board Chairwoman Carole Wright.


COMMENTS

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For some reason I trust the PERA trustees more than I trust either Walker Stapleton or John Leany. Thankfully neither of them will have any more import to the trustees than do teachers in the classroom who are dependent upon PERA for their retirement.

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