Republican Tom Tancredo at Capitol to talk PERA, prepare for Hickenlooper-Tancredo transition
Author: Ernest Luning - January 11, 2018 - Updated: January 13, 2018
Republican Tom Tancredo, the former congressman running for governor of Colorado, spent Thursday morning at the state Capitol to hear Gov. John Hickenlooper’s final State of the State address and offer his thoughts on where the state is headed.
“Let’s be realistic about this,” Tancredo told Colorado Politics before Hickenlooper, who is term-limited, delivered the annual speech to a joint session of the General Assembly. “Right now, at least, I am the frontrunner in the Republican Party’s nomination process. If that holds and if it continues, I think it’s imperative for me to actually be here to talk to the legislators I want to meet with, to hear what the governor has to say, and to prepare the ground for an eventual transition from a Hickenlooper to a Tancredo administration.”
Tancredo said he planned to meet with GOP lawmakers to discuss his ideas about moving Colorado’s public pension system toward a defined-contribution plan, some portions of which could be privatized. He also plans to propose addressing teacher shortages by allowing school districts to hire teachers under a sort of apprenticeship program while also being able to pay teachers in some disciplines, such as math and science, higher salaries.
“Frankly, I hope it’s a moot point by the time any new administration comes into play here,” Tancredo said. “If it’s me, I want that handled. If it isn’t, I’d like them to know where I want them to take it — hence, this discussion today, because we’re going to start the process today of trying to remedy this problem. I hope it gets that way, and I want to give them my best ideas about how to make it happen
Along with funding transportation projects and attacking the opioid epidemic, lawmakers and the governor agree one of the session’s top priorities is to address concerns about the state’s Public Employees’ Retirement Association system, known as PERA, which faces unfunded liabilities in the years ahead.
Tancredo says he’s convinced the problem is more dire than most politicians and PERA experts are willing to admit. Pointing to a 2017 study by the conservative American Legislative Exchange Council that found massive unfunded liabilities in the nation’s public pensions, Tancredo told Colorado Politics he believes it’s imperative to adopt the same funding-ratio requirements private pensions must meet. Under those guidelines, he said, Colorado’s system is facing a crisis that requires drastic overhaul.
In order to fix it, Tancredo says he’d like lawmakers to look at recent public pension reforms undertaken in Arizona, Pennsylvania and Michigan. He said he likes moves some states have made toward what he described as a “hybrid 401(k) process, instead of a guaranteed payout from a government agency.”
“It has begun to set the stage for recovery,” he said. “It doesn’t mean we won’t have to probably still add more money in order to make up the imbalance. But any government-operated program like this is always going to be in this mess. Not because there isn’t enough money — though there isn’t — but the politics of it will always be there. You’re always going to have a group of people demagoguing it on either side of it. Whether it’s a public employees’ union or people running for governor,” he said with a chuckle.
He also believes PERA should offer complete transparency. “Anybody should be able to go to a computer and pull it up and understand it,” he said.
Coming up with a long-term solution to PERA’s problems, Tancredo added, would go a long way toward easing pressures on education funding, since school district budgets are increasingly devoted to paying into the pension program.
One of nine Republicans running for governor, Tancredo was a three-term state representative in the late 1970s and early 1980s before being appointed regional administrator of the newly created Department of Education under President Reagan.