Bills from the House are making their way over to the Senate. One bill for which Im the Senate sponsor has been quite controversial. House Bill 1248 is the second rendition of a bill that proposes changes to the board of the state public pension plan known as the Colorado Public Employees Retirement Association or PERA. The board currently consists of 15 members.
Being the sponsoring legislator in the second chamber means Im more of a spectator to the process until the bill passes the House, assuming it does. Still, its my practice to be very familiar with a bills topic before sponsoring it. Ive done a lot of research on the topic of public pension plan board composition and good governance practices. My aim with this bill is to support this important and weighty public resource and obligation with the best possible management for current retirees as well as generations of public employees yet to retire.
The bill isnt an indictment of the current PERA board, staff or their past decision making. Instead, it looks to the future. The bill seeks to improve upon a dire situation that faces all public pension plans and states across the country. There are long-term funding issues with these plans and a serious lack of public confidence, even among some of the plan members. I hear, understand and share these concerns as expressed to me by my constituents, so Im involved with this bill.
The first version of the bill, voluntarily dropped by the House sponsor, changed the board member composition so that there wouldnt be a majority of pension beneficiaries on the board. We received lots of feedback on such a dramatic change, and the House sponsor reworked the bill so that there would be an increase in board members who arent pension beneficiaries, but there would still be a majority who do have that perspective and are elected by the pensions various division members.
Now, under the current version, board members who arent pension beneficiaries would increase from 3 to 6 members and these gubernatorial appointees must bring to the board a skill set among various financial backgrounds. The bill specifically prevents a governor from stacking a majority of the board appointees from one party.
Deepening the boards financial skills can help provide healthy pushback on key financial assumptions proposed by management and its advisors. Reducing the number with direct personal interest should also improve the confidence of those on the outside looking in at the pensions management.
I supported the PERA reform bill passed last year and applaud the efforts of many who worked hard on that. However, last years bill is stuck in litigation. Whether it will survive the legal challenges as a hoped-for solution to PERAs unfunded liabilities will be unknown for years, as it will likely go to the U.S. Supreme Court.
In the meantime, I have an obligation to all of my constituents to see that PERA is as well managed as possible in these turbulent economic times.
Ellen Roberts represents Senate District 6 in Colorados General Assembly. The district encompasses Montezuma, Dolores, La Plata, Archuleta, Montrose, San Miguel, San Juan and Ouray counties. Contact Sen. Roberts by phone at (303) 866-4884, or e-mail email@example.com.