As the Grand Junction Sentinel’s Charles Ashby reports, Treasurer Walker Stapleton’s favorite axe to grind, the estimated rate of return for the state’s Public Employee Retirement Association fund, has once again failed to fulfill his dire predictions. Last week, Stapleton lost big at the Colorado Supreme Court, when the court refused to hear his appeal to gain access to confidential PERA data. Stapleton’s campaign to “reform” PERA, while complaining loudly about the fund’s supposed weakness, has been his most visible policy as state treasurer.
Well, as Ashby reported yesterday…it’s a bunch of BS.
A state audit of the Colorado Public Employee Retirement Association, which holds and manages pensions for just about every state and local government employee in Colorado, has “no significant deficiencies or material weaknesses.”
…Along with the audit, PERA’s actuaries also reported last week that the pension fund will become 100 percent funded in 34 years, Smith said. While the ideal solvency level is aimed at 30 years, the pension system doesn’t have far to go to get to where it needs to be fully funded, he said.
Smith credited much of the pension’s good health on reforms made by the Colorado Legislature in 2010. That new law, SB1, reduced retirement benefits for new government hires, reduced automatic cost-of-living increases for existing retirees and increased contributions to the fund by employers over seven years…
Though it now has a projected 7.5 percent return rate, which the pension lowered from 8 percent, over the past 30 years its investments have returned more than that — 9.5 percent on average, he said. [Pols emphasis]
The fact is, Treasurer Stapleton’s doom and gloom assessments of PERA’s outlook, segueing into the usual political arguments for “doing something” about the “lavish benefits” PERA pensioners receive, have totally failed the test of basic accuracy. Even after the 2010 SB-1 reforms significantly increased employee obligations, not to mention the lowering of the projected rate of return for PERA investment to 7.5% last year, Stapleton has continued to find a ready (if ignorant) audience for his message on PERA with partisan Republicans.
As we discussed last week, Stapleton has missed a large number of PERA Board meetings, going back years–all the while pursuing his now-failed lawsuit, and arguing that PERA’s “irresponsibility” was exposing Colorado taxpayers to massive risk. The full facts of Stapleton’s campaign against PERA make the whole business just laughable. Even if you’re with Stapleton on “reforming” PERA, he’s done a terrible job making the case. For us, having missed so many PERA board meetings while grandstanding on the issue for years destroys Stapleton’s credibility. For everyone else, there’s the increasingly undeniable fact that Stapleton is just plain wrong about PERA.
“Without being confrontational with the treasurer, we like to talk about the numbers, [Pols emphasis] and are focused on the numbers, and the numbers indicate to us that we don’t have a current crisis. Every indication is we’ll be able to meet our obligations and eventually we’ll return to fully funded status.”
Back in 2010, when Stapleton campaigned for treasurer warning of a coming “hyperinflationary environment” and calling for the state to buy gold Glenn Beck style to ward off disaster, we marveled a little that this silly man was actually poised to defeat a competent and trustworthy administrator like then-Treasurer Cary Kennedy. But it was a wave year, and things happen down the ticket in such elections that have nothing to do with the greater good.
There was no “hyperinflationary environment” after 2010, but Stapleton has proven no less silly.