Retirement insights from a Colorado PERA perspective

Inside Colorado PERA

Thousands participate in PERA’s interactive town hall meetings

In this story:

  • More than 3,000 PERA members and retirees took part in two town hall meetings
  • Topics of discussion included PERA’s financials, state funding, investments, and Social Security
  • Read summaries of questions/answers and view clips from the events

This year’s town hall meetings with PERA Executive Director Ron Baker and Chief Investment Officer Amy C. McGarrity, which featured new ways for members and retirees to connect, drew more than 3,000 live participants across the web, phone, and social media. Many more have since watched the events online.

The conversation centered on PERA’s recently released 2020 Annual Report but also touched on topics such as state funding, green energy investments, and Social Security.

Below is a summary of some of the questions and answers from the events. For full recordings of the town halls, visit copera.org/townhall.

How are PERA’s investments doing?

While 2020 was turbulent for investors, it ultimately was a strong year in the markets. PERA’s total fund return for the year was 17.4%. The 10-year annualized return is 9.4%. PERA’s funded ratio at the end of 2020 was 62.8%.

More information is available in PERA’s Annual Report.

What is PERA doing about the Windfall Elimination Provision and reductions in Social Security benefits?

Executive Director Ron Baker discussed PERA’s efforts to work with Colorado’s congressional delegation on this issue and the challenges with changing the WEP at the federal level. Watch the clip below for more:

Will member contributions be going up again?

Member contribution rates increased by 0.5% on July 1 for all members except those in the Local Government Division due to the scheduled increases established in 2018’s Senate Bill 200. This is the third and final year of the three-year phase-in of the 2% rate increase for member contributions.

In addition, because of changes to PERA’s liabilities (learn more about this here), the Automatic Adjustment Provision will go into effect next year. That means member contributions will increase by 0.5%, and the annual increase for benefit recipients will decrease by 0.25%, in July 2022.

Click image to enlargen

“We understand how difficult that is to hear,” Baker said. “For our active members, that is more money out of your pocket, and for our benefit recipients, that is less money in your pocket in increases. The reason we need to do this is so we continue to have a strongly funded system.”

Will retirees receive an annual increase this year?

Yes, the Annual Increase (AI) paid in July 2021 will be 1.25% for most retirees. The AI amount for eligible PERA benefit structure retirees hired on or after January 1, 2007 will be 1.2%.

Did the state make its $225 million direct payment to PERA this year?

The state paid its $225 million direct distribution to PERA on July 1, 2021. While the direct distribution from 2020 will not be paid, the Legislature underscored its commitment to PERA and the retirement security of hundreds of thousands of Coloradans by creating a cash fund to pay for future contributions to PERA.

Why doesn’t PERA divest from fossil fuels and invest in green energy instead?

PERA invests in a wide variety of asset types with the goal of securing the best possible risk-adjusted returns for its members. Hear more from Chief Investment Officer Amy C. McGarrity in the clip below:

I’m counting on PERA for my retirement income; do you have my back?

“This organization, and I think more importantly, the General Assembly, has your back,” Baker said. “The PERA Board absolutely has your back; they are members and also governor appointees. All of us in this organization work very diligently to ensure that we’ll be here for the long term as well.”

To watch the town hall events in full, visit copera.org/townhall.

Automatic adjustment provisionAn automatic change to PERA contributions (employer, employee, state direct distribution) or the Annual Increase based on funding levels.

Comments

  1. DAVID HITE says:

    Does PERA still own-occupy the building that fronts Logan
    Street at the corner of Logan and 13th Street in Denver. It appears vacant and if so why isn’t it on the market?

  2. Roger Tanner says:

    I want PERA to make investments in things that give them members the best returns not cater to a bunch of Woke garbage. Fossil fuels will be with us for at least another 50 years no matter what the Left believes. Not all I f us can afford $100,000 electric cars!

    • Pete Nichols says:

      Absolutely agree. Getting political with everything is more than tiresome and if we cater to every persons individual desires, we invest in nothing.

    • William Shaffer says:

      Excellent point! Thanks for representing the rest of us who have the same opinion, but not the verbal acumen to express this information as well as you have!

      • Roger Tanner says:

        Thanks, William
        When the woke Left want s to get rid of fossil fuels they fail to realize the huge amount of things in our everyday lives that are made from oil or natural gas like plastics, other synthetic fabrics, pharmaceuticals and incalculable other items!

    • Marti S. says:

      AGREE, Roger!!! And for Ron Baker to say PERA has the backs of retirees for their income, that is a bunch of a …not nice word I won’t write here! If PERA had our backs, both I and countless other PERA retirees would be receiving the AI they expected after giving a lifetime of dedicated, hard-working service as PERA employees–and proud (at the time) to be working for the state! As it is, once again–not the first time and won’t be the last–we see our AI will again be reduced for 2022 for ridiculous reasons. PERA will never reach fully funded status in my lifetime. Thus, I’ll never receive the benefits I was promised. Looking around, everything is going up–good Lord, just look at gas prices under the woke administration! And–everything else. It’s all increasing, but my AI sure isn’t keeping up. I worked part-time jobs because I wanted to and enjoyed it for a number of years after retiring, but now, due to health reasons, that ability is becoming less and less, so even my additional retirement funds beyond PERA are barely cutting it. I don’t even feel secure anymore in believing that I’ll always receive a PERA DB while alive, simply because I’ve learned the hard way I cannot trust PERA. I’ll be screamed at by the wokes out there, but frankly could care less. Truth hurts, and truth is truth no matter how the wokes try to spin it! Won’t be long before the electric grid is likely attacked by foreign enemies anyway, and the woke establishment will see how “going electric on everything” is a bunch of crap as power goes out coast to coast.

    • Bonnie K Hartman says:

      And no one is thinking about what we will have to do with the batteries in those cars when they expire.

  3. Bonnie Hartman says:

    Same ol’ song and dance about WEP and GPO. I have contacted my legislators more than once. I even contacted the White House. What I heard Mr. Baker say is that it’s too hard to tackle SSA when it raises people’s benefits. Well, they just tackled COVID relief, where did they find that money? I think the only way to get someone’s attention is to file a class action lawsuit. They are stealing our money, plain and simple. Wish we could find an attorney with the guts to take on the case and the SSA.

    • Gary says:

      Well said. We are complaining to individuals who don’t have the teeth, obviously. I, like you, worked in the public sector and earned our portion of SS. So why does Pera say the issue is finding the money to pay back what was legally earned. Beaurocracy at it’s finest! It will take an army to win this one.

      • Keila says:

        Take it from welfare and illegals and give it back to those of us who paid it in and who it rightfully belongs to!

    • Dinah McKay says:

      The PERA Board needs to file a lawsuit against the State Legislature for refusing to meet the requirements it imposed on itself in SB200 to fund PERA $225 Million annually for its underfunding PERA billions of dollars from around 2001 to 2010, which put the PERA fund in financial straights!

      How can the State Legislature just “opt out” of its legal requirements by law when we all had to meet ours? They can’t just get away with that!! When they refused to follow the law (SB200) they created, that set PERA up for another “manufactured” failure set up by the state.

      PERA must demand that the State follow the laws it created, just like we all did, and issue PERA the $225 Million now!!! The State has lots of extra money right now. THE STATE LEGISLATURE MUST NOT BE ALLOWED TO BREAK THE LAW WHENEVER IT WANTS–TO INTENTIONALLY DAMAGE PERA SO IT HAS $225 MILLION OF OUR MONEY TO FUND CORPORATE TAX BREAKS AND OFF-SHORE LOOPHOLES!!! THE STATE MUST MAKE UP FOR DEFUNDING PERA AND FOLLOW THE LAW!!!!!

    • Kevin says:

      Thanks to fellow PERA recipients like Bonnie & Gary who keep bringing up the unfairness of GPO/WEP. I’m disappointed that PERA has no problem taking away the yearly COLA raises that were GUARANTEED to us, yet they won’t provide more support to those of us who also lost over 2/3 of our Social Security benefits. At the very least, PERA should be helping to coordinate an effort to get members to contact our representatives about this issue. We desperately need the assistance of organizations such as PERA and AARP as a way to contact Colorado public service retirees to get them to email & call our legislative representatives.
      As for good news, EVERY time I look at H.R.82 in congress, the number of cosponsors to repeal GPO & WEP goes up. We now have three representatives from Colorado (Perlmutter, Neguse and Crow) who have cosponsored the bill. 136 Democrats and 47 Republicans have signed on as cosponsors. Unfortunately, not one Colorado Republican (or the Denver Democratic representative) has supported us and signed on as a sponsor. Senator Bennett has cosponsored S.1302, the Senate version of the GPO/WEP repeal bill. But Hickenlooper, despite saying he supports public servants and working class people and bipartisanship, has failed to sign on as a cosponsor. Once again, I suggest each one of you contact your congressional and senate representatives and ask/beg/plead/demand that they sign on to cosponsor S.1302 and H.R.82 to repeal GPO/WEP.

    • John says:

      Agreed, all those who earned SS benefits by paying into the SS system should receive retirement payments just like everyone else who has paid in. I believe Federal employees and military are not excluded when they claim SS benefits. Our govt is set up with a system of checks and balances. In this case, the courts are the balance for PERA retirees.

    • lori butler says:

      I contributed SS for 21 years in another state. I contributed more years into SS than I did with PERA. My SS benefit does not come close to what I should be receiving.

  4. Peggy Burress says:

    When the 3.5% annual increase was stolen from retirees, we were told that future increases would be tied to the Federal COLA for Social Security (SS) retirees. Hmm… While we did not receive an increase for 3 years, then a paltry 1.25% in 2020, Social Security recipients received 1.67% increase. This year, SS retirees will receive a bigger increase and PERA retirees will receive a whole 1% (according to the PERA representative I spoke with in July, though the above article quotes a 1.25% increase. Which is it??? Either figure is an insult. The increase 0.5% increase in employee contribution is offset by the 3% salary increase they will receive in July. The only true increase retirees will see in July is in the cost of living without financial help to manage it.

    • PERA On The Issues says:

      Hi Peggy, the annual increase for most eligible benefit recipients is 1.25% this year (reflected on July benefit payments) and will be 1% next year (July 2022) due to the Automatic Adjustment Provision. We know changes to member contributions and annual increases are difficult for everyone, but what hasn’t changed is that current and future retirees can continue to count on PERA to provide a source of income in retirement they can’t outlive. You can read more about annual increases in this fact sheet: https://www.copera.org/sites/default/files/documents/2-247.pdf

      • Bonnie Hartman says:

        If we have to sacrifice our social security benefits because we chose to serve our state, PERA increases should match or exceed social security benefits, especially when the contribution rate to PERA exceeds the contribution rate for social security benefits. The SSA COLA is designed to help the recipients through inflation, and the current PERA increases will never keep up. This is a tough pill to swallow knowing that returns over the past year exceeded 17% and next year the increase for retirees is even less. You claim PERA “is a source of income we can’t outlive”, but we will be forced to return to the workforce when inflation has eroded what we thought would be enough to live on. So I guess we’re really not retirees but will become indentured servants for someone else only to be penalized by SSA when they want to keep half of our “retirement” benefits because we chose to work for the state. Awesome, eh?

      • Paul says:

        Dear PERA Representative,
        Your comment, “We know changes to member contributions and annual increases are difficult for everyone, but what hasn’t changed is that current and future retirees can continue to count on PERA to provide a source of income in retirement they can’t outlive” obfuscates the fact and main point of members concerns on this issue. That is, the “changes” you reference will diminish the amount of the income that we will receive and not allow pensioners to keep up with the cost of living. This is a devastating consequence over time for those retirees who have no other source of income and banked on what they were led to believe about Annual Increases when they retired.
        Just promising to pay them (something) until they die, while repeatedly promoting legislation to diminish just how much that something amounts to, is not comforting at all.
        Just once I would like to see a Representative of PERA, on this issue, come out and say, we wish we had better news for you but you folks are getting a bum deal. We are not capable of investing the money we have in the fund to obtain returns sufficient to provide you with annual increases that would enable you to keep up with the cost of living. The legislature refuses to fund your plan sufficiently to make up for our inability to enable you to keep up with the cost of living. The only solution we could come up with to resolve the aforementioned failures, is to take more money from working members’ paychecks and pay retirees less money than expected in future years.

        • Marti S. says:

          You are so right on! I am so sick and tired of PERA saying the AAP has to be adjusted to account for everyone under PERA, not only currently employed people all along the age spectrum who have not yet retired, but also retirees. Retirees are the group LEAST ABLE to afford this; it was bad enough before I retired during two years that I recall that it went from 8% to 10% contribution, but every single person with whom I worked AGREED we could absorb it better than retirees. In other words, the working folks were saying it was wrong to put it on the backs of retirees–at least the large group of those around whom I worked, both state employees and professionals. It doesn’t take an idiot to see that–but then, the PERA top brass who make enough money it doesn’t matter to them don’t seem to get it. The AAP should have NEVER been put on the backs of retirees!!

      • Fred Boettcher says:

        The…changes are…difficult… No, they are a breach of contract and the breaking of promises and a pile of lies to us retirees. PERA must be the only retirement place that supports laws change to hurt their retirees. And they don’t care.

    • Monica Wolfe says:

      It seems that PERA is paddling furiously to keep its head above water due to the over generous benefits that were enacted in the 1990s. I’m grateful that I get a benefit.

  5. Larry Dean Williams says:

    Did the legislature’s decision to not contribute the agreed funds to the PERA system, contribute to the triggering of the contribution and benefit adjustments? And, if some branches of PERA are treated differently, why is the DPS division not also treated independently?

    • PERA On The Issues says:

      Hi Larry, the Automatic Adjustment Provision (AAP) taking effect is largely due to changes to PERA’s assumptions that reflect PERA members living longer and changes to the public workforce, as well as the effects of the pandemic on our membership. As far as different divisions go, the AAP looks at the blended funding required to get all divisions to full funding.

  6. Alan Quiller says:

    It appears that some adjustments and assumption changes have led to the triggering of our contribution and benefit adjustments. I also understand that PERA’s investment return was 17.4% last year. I think the adjustment and assumption changes must have been to aggressive if they can’t be covered by a 17.4% investment return.
    The year before I retire there was a 3.5% annual increase in benefits. Now we are down to 1.25%. With a 10 year annualized return of 9.4% you would think the benefit would increase not decrease.

  7. Steve Howard says:

    In the past, I had complained to PERA about the lack of closed captioning for the hearing impaired, when presenting videos to its membership. They acknowledged the mistake, re-issued the videos with captioning. Here, again, we have the institutional failure to present its videos with closed captioning. I have watched Mr. Baker’s video, about Social Security. I also started to watch the video from the Chief Investment Officer, regarding the sale-investment of …oil stocks/fossil fuels. Neither of these two videos were closed captioned. Please re-issue these videos, and put someone (Director of Communication Services?) directly in charge of making sure all videos are closed captioned, so there is accountability. This is ridiculous, especially when you are addressing an audience, who is generally over the age of 65, who, statistically, will have some members who are hearing impaired.

    • PERA On The Issues says:

      Hi Steve, we sincerely regret that oversight. You should now be able to view closed captions on the videos.

  8. Phyllis L Williams says:

    I have learned that “promises” made by governments and many retirement plans don’t use the same meaning for that word that my parents taught me it meant. I well remember all the turmoil when they wanted to basically get rid of all employees over 50 who had 30 years of service by not sticking to the “rule of 85” and making it the “rule of 80.” They all said it wasn’t to “get rid” of our “very valued” employees. Bull. We had an aging workforce in the state, and that was a huge factor in how much we paid for health insurance premiums. Our aging workforce also were at the highest pay grade (step 7, as I recall), and as each of them left, new hires were very young and were required (in the agency I worked for, anyway), to begin at Step 1. They got a huge reduction in costs of operating state government, and then did not even fund the “pay for performance” (also bull) for years. Favored staff got “upgrades” in their position classification, the rest of us got told, “maybe next year.” Well, that’s the way the political world operates. Promises made are not necessarily kept, and we just have to handle our own lives as best we can.

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