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Inside Colorado PERA

PERA Board Discusses Election, Investments at March Meeting

Several laptops sit open on a table, along with papers showing various charts and graphs
Photo credit: Getty Images

The Colorado PERA Board of Trustees resumed meeting in person for its March meeting, convening at PERA’s headquarters in Denver on Friday, March 18.

The Trustees discussed a number of important topics, including the upcoming Board election, PERA-related legislative activity, and PERA’s investments.

Board election

Four seats on the Board are up for election this year, and members interested in serving as a PERA trustee were able to submit their candidate packets in January and February. At this month’s meeting, the Board received an update on candidates for the four open seats and voted to move forward with elections for the School Division and State Division seats.

Current trustee Ramon Alvarado is running uncontested for the Higher Education seat in the State division, so the Board voted to appoint him to another term and forego an election for that seat. In the Local Government division, the Board will form an ad hoc committee to identify possible candidates for appointment to that seat, since there are no candidates running for the position.

Ballots will be mailed in early May and members of the School and State divisions will be able to vote for their respective Board seats.

Legislative update

PERA Executive Director Ron Baker and Public and Government Affairs Manager Michael Steppat provided the Board with an update on several pieces of PERA-related legislation that have been making their way through the Colorado General Assembly this session.

Lawmakers passed two bills that will expand the ability for PERA retirees to work after retirement without a reduction in benefits — HB22-1057 and HB22-1101 — and Gov. Polis signed them into law.

HB22-1029, which would make up the state’s annual $225 million payment to PERA that was foregone in 2020 due to pandemic-related budget cuts, has been introduced in the House but it’s not yet scheduled for a hearing. Steppat said he expects to see lawmakers take action on that bill in the coming weeks. 

Click here for the latest bill status updates.

Actuarial audit

This year, the Board will hire an outside firm to conduct an audit of PERA’s actuarial methods and assumptions — which PERA uses for calculations such as projecting liabilities — as part of its regular review process. The Board reviewed four firms that submitted proposals and voted to select Buck, which has extensive experience with public plans and previously performed an audit for PERA in 2009.

Buck will perform the audit throughout the spring and summer, and then present the results to the PERA Board at its November meeting.

Fiduciary counsel review

The Board is also undertaking a review of the outside legal consultant who serves as fiduciary counsel to the Board, providing annual fiduciary training and giving advice as needed. The Board reviewed multiple finalists and voted to select Suzanne Dugan of Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll, PLLC as fiduciary counsel going forward.

Market and investments update

PERA Chief Investment Officer Amy C. McGarrity provided the Board with an update on economic conditions and market volatility so far this year, as well as other topics involving PERA’s investments, including Russia-based assets.

On Feb. 24, Colorado Gov. Jared Polis made a request to the PERA Board that is consistent with what has been included in the federal mandates pertaining to sanctions on Russian-owned assets. U.S. sanctions remain fluid and include a combination of freezing assets, divesting of assets and not investing additional funds in Russian assets. PERA is reviewing and preparing to implement the federal mandates within the required time specifications. As of Feb. 24, PERA had $8 million in total invested in Sberbank, OGK-2, Gazprom, Mosenergo, and Rosneft Oil. As of Mar. 18, PERA’s portfolio (preliminary and unaudited) is $60,992,000,000.

McGarrity also provided an update on PERA’s implementation of HB16-1284 (Divest From Companies With Prohibitions Against Israel).

In 2021, Ben & Jerry’s issued a statement that it would withdraw its products from the Israeli-occupied West Bank because the occupation was inconsistent with company values. To comply with HB16-1284, PERA will be assessing its investments in Unilever (as the parent company of Ben & Jerry’s) and engaging further with the company.

As of Feb. 28, 2022, PERA has $42 million invested in Unilever equities and bonds.

The PERA Board voted unanimously to add Unilever to its Restricted Companies List. PERA will begin a 180-day process to engage with Unilever in accordance with the Board’s decision. Upon completion of the engagement, and as applicable, PERA will divest of its Unilever holdings within 12 months if not satisfied with the responses to the assessment.

VolatilityVolatility of returns is the measurement used to define risk. It describes the variation of price of a financial instrument over time. The greater the volatility, the higher the risk.

Comments

  1. Andrew Burns says:

    What is the value of the PERA investment in Unilever? Legislating investments is a slippery slope, where can it lead? Where does it end? There are bad people all over the planet but economies do business with them because they need to. I am pro Israel, but my concern is that handcuffing PERA’s investment options is not a good idea over the long term. PERA has a job to fulfill its obligations to members. I prefer investment professionals selecting investments through a rigorous screening process to elected officials with agendas that may clash with PERA’s obligations.

  2. Andrew Burns says:

    Isn’t it interesting that the legislature has not acted on the most important PERA related bill? Paying back what they owe? Personally, I would like more information on this story. Why the delay? Can we get specific answers from the House?

    • Betty Spinuzzi says:

      Hello Andrew,
      AFSCME Retirees Chapter 76 whose members receive PERA will be attending lobby day at the capital on April 4th and will be pursuing answers to this question. We have been told that PERA will be paid back with some negotiation around additional money still being pursued in the finance committee. I don’t think they will move the bill out of committee until after the budget is completed. The bill is said to have little opposition.
      If you would like to join us to have your voice heard, our dues are 24 dollars a year.

  3. Nancy Fey says:

    The Israeli occupation of the West Bank of Palestine is illegal according to UN international standards, as well as cruel. I commend Ben and Jerry’s principled stand. I and many others oppose PERA’s Zionist position of supporting Israel no matter what that country does. The argument that being anti Zionist equates with being anti Semitic is tired and patently false. It is interesting that most Americans oppose Russia taking Ukrainian land but ignore Israel stealing of Palestinian lands for many years including currently.

    • Larry says:

      Totally agree! Thanks for your insightful comment.

    • Rob Gray says:

      PERA didn’t initiate HB 16-1284, which requires PERA to divest from companies with prohibitions against Israel. The Legislature initiated the bill in 2016 and passed it. PERA is just complying with the law by going down this path required, assessing and engaging with Unilever, which may result in divesting Unilever stock. You might want to read Krista Kafer’s column in the Denver Post a few weeks ago on this subject.

    • Brad Buckner says:

      I agree with the comments by Nancy Fey. Frankly it is hypocritical to oppose Russia’s occupation of Ukrainian and not Israeli’s occupation of Palestine. I understand that they are responding to the legislation passed but the hypocrisy should be called out.

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