Each year, Colorado PERA releases its Comprehensive Annual Financial Report (CAFR) to provide audited financial information about the state’s retirement plan for public employees. It provides complete, reliable information that the PERA Board of Trustees, PERA staff, elected officials, and the public can use to evaluate PERA’s financial condition. It also demonstrates PERA’s careful stewardship of members’ and employers’ contributions as well as transparency and compliance with legal provisions affecting the plan.
The CAFR is a dense financial document. It is full of fiscal analysis of PERA’s past investment performance, current financial status, and future funding projections. But it contains critical information that demonstrates the strength of the plan’s financial standing as well as potential future challenges that must be managed and limited.
Included within the CAFR released on June 24, 2013, are the investment returns of the PERA funds for 2013. Over the last calendar year, PERA investments earned 15.6 percent. This exceeds the PERA Board’s expected rate of return of 7.5 percent by a substantial margin. Over the last three, five and 10 years, the fund earned 9.9 percent, 12.2 percent and 7.6 percent, respectively. (The last 10 years include the substantially negative-earnings year in 2008.)
In November of 2013, the Board adopted a more conservative outlook on long-term investments and lowered its assumed long-term investment return rate to 7.5 percent from 8.0 percent. As the CAFR shows, PERA investment returns have exceeded this rate over each of these key long-term investment horizons.
The strong 2013 investment returns resulted in $6 billion of investment income. At the same time that PERA has seen these strong investment returns, distributions to PERA retirees have contributed to Colorado’s economy. At the end of 2013, PERA held $43.7 billion in assets, an all-time high for the plan and $4 billion more than at the end of 2012. At the same time, PERA paid out more than $3 billion in distributions to retired public employees living in Colorado.
These retirement distributions in turn drive $4.78 billion in economic output in local communities across the state where PERA members live, work, and retire. Retirement distributions in Colorado sustain nearly 26,000 jobs and generate $282 million in state and local tax revenue. More detail on Colorado PERA’s economic impact may be found here.
There are 547 different employers that are affiliated with PERA including every public school district in the state, agencies of state government, judges, and 146 local governments.
PERA counts members in each of Colorado’s 64 counties and in 2013 paid benefits to more than 100,000 retirees who used to be Colorado’s teachers, prison guards, snow plow drivers, State Patrol officers, and other public employees. Of those retirement distributions, nearly 90 percent went to individuals still living here in Colorado. The average monthly PERA benefit is $3,068 and the median benefit is $2,818.
Importantly, the CAFR includes a full actuarial valuation from PERA’s actuary, Cavanaugh Macdonald. The valuation measures how well the current contributions to PERA from both members and employers position the fund to be able to pay all of its benefit obligations in the future.
In the 2013 CAFR, the actuary notes that “contributions and projected reductions in liability due to benefit structure changes for newer hires are expected to be sufficient to finance the promised benefits.” In short, PERA will be able to meet its benefit obligations in the future so long as contribution increases and benefit changes for new PERA members, which are already outlined in current law, remain in place.
In 2010, the Colorado General Assembly passed landmark legislation, known as Senate Bill 1, to strengthen PERA’s financial position after the Great Recession. As the actuary notes, changes to contribution rates and benefit structures, made primarily as a result of that legislation, will be sufficient for PERA to pay all the benefits its members are owed.
The CAFR also includes a summary of legislation proposed and enacted over the last ten years, such as Senate Bill 1, that addressed PERA’s financial sustainability and levels of funding. In 2014, the Board supported legislation (Senate Bill 14-214) that creates three separate studies that change the state’s total compensation survey process to incorporate retirement benefits; perform a comprehensive study of the current PERA plan design compared to alternative retirement plans; and perform a sensitivity analysis of actuarial assumptions.
For those who would like to dig a little deeper into the CAFR, we’ve prepared this index. For those who would like a shortened version of the CAFR, PERA also creates a Summary Annual Financial Report that is mailed to all members and retirees. Whatever your level of desire for information about PERA’s financial health, it’s always readily available.