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The second regular session of the 74th Colorado General Assembly got underway on January 10, and lawmakers will spend the following 120 days introducing and debating hundreds of bills that could alter state law.
Colorado PERA’s representative at the State Capitol, Public and Government Affairs Manager Michael Steppat, helps make sure legislators understand how PERA works and how legislation affects PERA and its members. We caught up with Steppat to discuss the upcoming session.
How and why does PERA engage in the legislative process?
While the PERA Board of Trustees is responsible for administering benefits and overseeing PERA’s investments, the General Assembly is responsible for many other aspects of PERA, such as contribution rates, benefit levels, and the amount of the annual benefit increases that retirees receive.
During and between sessions, PERA staff provide regular updates to the Legislature so lawmakers can make informed decisions on issues that affect our members.
What are some of the issues we expect to come up this session?
Last year’s session was an interesting one that included several legislators stepping down. As a result, legislative leaders from both parties have expressed a desire for more decorum heading in to the 2024 legislative session.
The Democratic majority remains in place at the Capitol, and there aren’t any statewide offices up for election this year. It’s likely the new session will see bills continuing to address the rise in property taxes across the state, which was addressed temporarily during the special session a couple months ago, but work continues on finding a long-term solution. Additionally, included in the Governor’s budget proposal is a request to buy down the state’s budget stabilization factor, which was created during the Great Recession and diverted money from Colorado’s public schools. This would be a huge investment in K-12 funding and should receive bipartisan support. Some of the other priority issues relate to others that lawmakers have tackled in recent years, such as affordable housing and the increasing cost of health care.
PERA doesn’t typically garner the same level of attention as other public policy issues during legislative sessions, but we already know about two bills that lawmakers intend to introduce this year. These two bills are among 54 total which lawmakers have already approved for introduction after being recommended by legislative interim committees that have met since the 2023 legislative session concluded. One of those bills would expand the number of PERA retirees who can work for school districts without reductions in their benefits, and the other would provide a temporary tax credit to PERA retirees. The latter is an attempt from lawmakers to address concerns from folks regarding a larger annual benefit increase, but doing so in a way that does not negatively affect PERA’s funding status.
Speaking of funding, do you have a sense of what the state’s next budget looks like?
Gov. Jared Polis released his budget proposal in November, and while the Legislature ultimately decides the state budget, it’s an important first step in the process. His proposal calls for increases in education funding and pay raises for teachers, among other things. Lawmakers will release their own draft of the budget, known as the Long Bill, in March. It’s important to note the state budget does not directly affect PERA’s funding, but it does affect funding for many of PERA’s employers.
Is there anything happening at the federal level that could affect politics here in Colorado?
2024 is a presidential election year, and this time around, Colorado will be one of 14 states holding primaries on Super Tuesday in March. That means Colorado voters will have their voices heard earlier in the campaign process than in years past, and it’s likely candidates will make stops in our state.
In addition, the 2023-2024 Congress continues, and lawmakers have introduced several bills that would modify or repeal Social Security’s Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP) and Government Pension Offset (GPO). We often hear from PERA members about these provisions and their effects on Social Security benefits, and we will continue to monitor and update our stakeholders if Congress decides to take action on those bills.
READ MORE: An Update on 2023 WEP/GPO Legislation
What’s the best way for people to get involved in the legislative process?
I always tell people the most important thing they can do is contact their legislators about issues that are important to them. In addition, the General Assembly website has lots of great information. You can listen to committee meetings, view calendars, review the status of a bill, and sign up to testify at committee meetings.
And of course the PERA On The Issues biweekly newsletter will have up-to-date information on any legislation that affects PERA. We also encourage people to sign up for the PERA Ambassadors newsletter here.
Windfall elimination provisionA provision of federal law that may reduce Social Security benefit payments to retirees who receive a pension based on work during which they did not contribute to Social Security. The WEP does not apply to those with 30 or more years of substantial earnings in Social Security.Government pension offsetA provision of federal law that reduces Social Security dependent benefit payments to spouses, widows, and widowers who receive a government pension like PERA.