Colorado public pension fix (finally) passes Senate

Author: Joey Bunch - March 27, 2018 - Updated: April 5, 2018

PERA pensionSen. Mike Merrifield, D-Colorado Springs, debates Senate Bill 200 on state pensions on the Senate floor Tuesday morning. (Photo by Joey Bunch/Colorado Politics)

DENVER — Easily the most heavily debated bill in the Colorado Senate this session is finally headed to the House, after the upper chamber passed the bill Tuesday morning.

The measure passed 19-16, with Sen. Cheri Jahn, an independent from Wheat Ridge, joined Republicans for a 19-16 result.

So far, Senate Bill 200 has not picked up a Democratic vote to fix the shortfall of at least $32 billion over the next 30 years by asking state, local the school district public employees to pay more into their retirement fund and retirees to receive less in cost-of-living raises.

The bill was amended on the Senate floor last week to remove employers — those whose payroll is funded with tax money — from the equation.

Until the end Tuesday, Democrats continued to press for changes.

“What’s frustrating is there was so much talk about shared responsibility at the beginning of these discussions, and the shared part got thrown aside, and now all we have is responsibility,” said Sen. Mike Merrifield, D-Colorado Springs. “And those taking up the responsibility is the responsibility.”

In its current form, the legislation would ask working employees to put in 3 percent more from their paychecks. Retirees would not get a cost-of-living raise for two years; then their annual raises would fall from the current 2 percent to 1.25 percent.

The bill also allows future employees to opt out of the pension fund, and the state would put a supplement in the fund from taxpayers to cover their loss in the fund for other public workers.

Sen. Matt Jones, D-Louisville, said what’s obvious: Democrats will rewrite the bill in the House, where it’s sponsored by Majority Leader KC Becker and Rep. Dan Pabon, D-Denver, the House Finance Committee chairman.

Jones characterized the Senate’s work as posturing for the eventual bargain worked out in a House-Senate conference committee, which would present a compromise bill before the General Assembly adjourns on May 9.

He urged the Senate to keep in mind the faith of teachers, members of the Colorado State Patrol, highway workers and those who maintain public lands, who counted on PERA to retire on.

“These people all had an agreement,” Jones said.

Sen. Kevin Lundberg, R-Berthoud, said both sides agree the PERA shortfall is serious — it could wreck the state’s credit rating, driving up the cost for taxpayers in all sorts of way — and they agree the state has an obligation to its retirees who paid into the fund.

He cited a history of the government’s contributions to the pension over the years.

“When you talk about shared responsibility, it sounds like the share has been largely on the backs of the taxpayers,” Lundberg said.

Sen. Beth Martinez Humenik, R-Thornton, make a case for the 401(k)-style investment, which are used by a large majority of private employers now.

“Is this perfect? Heck no,” she said of the Senate bill. “But we have to try to do something, because if we don’t, there won’t be any funds there for anyone.”

Joey Bunch

Joey Bunch

Joey Bunch is the senior political correspondent for Colorado Politics. He has a 31-year career in journalism, including the last 15 in Colorado. He was part of the Denver Post team that won the Pulitzer Prize in 2013 and is a two-time Pulitzer finalist. His resume includes covering high school sports, the environment, the casino industry and civil rights in the South, as well as a short stint at CNN.

One comment

  • jm fay

    March 27, 2018 at 1:01 pm

    Please dont forget what the JBC plans on doing and that is not only giving state employees a 3 % raise but also covering their additional PERA costs. So please dont act like the state needs to do more!

    Come on now Mr Bunch; do your job especially with us not having the DP around alot.

Comments are closed.