New PERA report shows retirement system headed in wrong direction

The financial health of the Colorado Public Employees’ Retirement Association (PERA) should be of concern for both the public servants who are counting on its retirement benefits and for all taxpayers who help pay for them.

Colorado PERA’s Comprehensive Annual Financial Report for 2014, released June 23, shows that its unfunded liability increased over the previous year by about $78 million to a total $25.9 billion – roughly the size of this year’s entire state budget. The bottom line is when it comes to paying for retirement benefits to Colorado public employees, PERA is $25.9 billion in the red.

By PERA’s own new estimates, even with big increases in government contributions required by 2010 legislation designed to fix PERA (Senate Bill 1), it will take 48 years to pay down the unfunded liability for its school division, which covers Colorado public educators. That’s four years longer than PERA estimated last year.

In other words, according to this new report from PERA, the pension system is headed in the wrong direction; its unfunded debt has increased while the already long timeline to pay off this debt has grown even longer. As the Laura and John Arnold Foundation described in its recent Risky Retirement report, insufficient contributions into the system have been the primary driver behind PERA’s growing debt. That trend continued last year, PERA’s new report shows.

The PERA CAFR should serve as a wake-up call for PERA members and other taxpayers, who may want to question the plan’s perpetually rosy rhetoric and take a hard look at PERA’s finances.

2 Comments

  • Dave Dillman says:

    Your post is accurate but only shares part of the truth. By advocating for a change in PERA’s pension system, your proposal actually immediately INCREASES the unfunded liability by billions of dollars. Instead, you should advocate for leaving PERA intact and allowing SB-1 from 2010 to continue to gradually reduce the unfunded liability. That is the most fiscally responsible path.

    • Colorado Pension Project says:

      Thanks for your comment, Dave. As you can see in the about section of our site (http://coloradopensionproject.com/about/), we do not advocate for any particular changes to Colorado’s public retirement system. Rather, our work focuses on understanding the numbers and educating stakeholders to promote intelligent dialogue about an effective and sustainable public retirement system. We want to be sure that we are providing all of our public servants a path to a secure retirement.

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