In 2010, public sector unions in Colorado supported a bill introduced at the Colorado Legislature, SB10-001, that diminished public pension rights previously deemed contractual under Colorado law, (see the cases Bills/McPhail.) The bill was challenged in court. Last week, after a long court battle, the Colorado Supreme Court reversed its long-standing precedent, ignored evidence (including the defendant's previous testimony admitting to the contract) and without trial or discovery ruled that public employees in Colorado have no contractual right to the contested public pension benefit. (That is, one branch of Colorado government conveniently found that another branch of Colorado government does not have to pay its debts.) Of course, Colorado public employees have supported their Colorado PERA pension COLA benefit with their labor and contributions for many years. Now, thanks in part to many Colorado union officials, the labor and pension contributions of union members will now be used to alleviate the tax burden on wealthy Colorado residents, and provide even more Colorado corporate welfare. Thanks Colorado unions.
As we read on the Colorado PERA website:
“In Colorado, Senate Bill 1 passed with the support of the Colorado Coalition for Retirement Security, which brought together Friends of PERA (which includes PERA members and retirees), the Colorado Education Association, the Colorado School and Public Employees Retirement Association, AFSCME Colorado, the American Federation of Teachers Colorado, the Association of Colorado State Patrol Professionals, the Colorado Association of School Executives, and Colorado WINS.”
Union Official Condemns Pension Contract Breach (Including the Taking of COLA Benefits) in Rhode Island.
An article published by the group Think Progress today addresses state theft of public pension benefits, including the taking of pension COLA benefits, in Rhode Island.
"The changes 'completely screwed mid- and late-career workers,' said SEIU’s Adler. For someone with 20 years of public service under his belt and a decade to go before hitting retirement age, 'you’re losing 10 years of wage increases and 20-plus percent of whatever that final average salary [used for calculating pension payments] was going to be. So it’s an enormous reduction.'”
(Does is not seem counterintuitive that Colorado public sector unions supported the taking of Colorado PERA public pension benefits, in light of their parent organization's support for public pension contractual rights?)
“'Many folks take public sector jobs because they have good pensions and benefits, and in many cases they’re forgoing better pay in the private sector,' Adler said. 'That got thrown out the window on a dime." ". . . if you’re early in your career you have time to decide if this job is still worth it. But if you’re mid-career, you’re stuck.”
(Mid-career Colorado state and local government employees should take the time to thank their Colorado union leaders for supporting SB10-001.)
"The year before, Baker crunched state-level pension numbers and found that those multi-trillion-dollar shortfalls are 'less than 0.2 percent of projected gross state product over the next 30 years for most states,' and less than 0.5 percent of projected future economic output even in the states with the worst-funded pensions."
(Of course, this evidence was also ignored by the politicians on the Colorado Supreme Court. There never was a Colorado PERA pension "crisis," the actuarial funded ratio of the Colorado PERA pension system, at the time of the contract breach, was 69%. This figure is a few points away from the historical funded ratio of the Colorado PERA pension system.)
"Like basic financial management for any working-class person, maintaining a healthy pension system requires getting into good habits and sticking with them. States that fund their pensions appropriately rather than reneging on the obligations 'generally do it because that has been the practice in the state, but generally not because of state law,' according to SEIU’s Adler."
(As we have seen, the Colorado Legislature has not paid its Colorado PERA public pension bills since 2003. This is documented at saveperacola.com.)
"The weakness in pension funds from decades of underfunding by state governments needs to be addressed and there’s no reason not to start now, he said, but the radical revisions and abandoned retirement promises Raimondo and Arnold support are unnecessary."
"Pew has received 'up to $4,850,000' for its pension work from the Arnolds since 2012 according to the Arnold Foundation’s website."
(Note that a study from Pew was used to justify the taking of the Colorado PERA pension COLA benefit in the bill SB10-001. Also, let's not forget that this Pew study was highlighted in the original legal briefs in the case, Justus v. State.)
“'They depict us as big labor, billions of dollars,' he said, 'and the reality is that we are fighting desperately to maintain the rights of our members under a furious, multifaceted right-wing assault.'”
(I do not consider the many Colorado Democrats and union officials who supported SB10-001 to be "right wing.")
"Elsewhere, the innocuously-named Colorado Pension Project held a panel discussion of how pension rules influence teacher hiring and school performance. Panelists from Bellwether Education Partners, the National Council on Teacher Quality, and the New Teacher Project all argued that traditional pensions hurt school districts’ ability to attract the best teachers." "All three groups are funded by John and Laura Arnold, whose foundation has given them a total of nearly $7 million."
(Will Colorado public sector unions support elimination of the remaining two-thirds of the value of their member's public pensions? Too soon to tell.)
“'If you stiff your bondholders they won’t lend you money. So they have power. Workers, what are they going to do?' Adler asked. 'They’re powerless.'”
(When one recognizes that Colorado PERA retirees are confronted by a pension administrator controlling all of their assets, and spending those assets to eliminate pension member contractual rights, when one sees a Colorado Supreme Court in the pocket of the proponents of pension contract breach, the word "powerless" appears quite apt.)
Greg Smith on Colorado PERA pension benefits:
“His [Colorado PERA General Counsel Greg Smith's] briefing paper said 'there has never been a finding in Colorado that the state has reserved its power to make changes' in PERA's benefit structure.”
"The PERA board, however, relying on a legal opinion by General Counsel Greg Smith, thinks benefits cannot be cut for any active PERA member. That means not just current retirees and workers who are eligible to retire but the brand-new employee who has put less than a year of contributions into the plan."
"Smith argued, however, that there is no precedent for declaring an actuarial emergency unless a pension fund has a serious cash liquidity problem."
Greg Smith, Colorado PERA’s former General Counsel told us in a Denver Post article from November 30, 2008: “The attorney general’s opinion seems clear that fully vested employees — those retired or with enough years of service to retire — cannot see any benefits reduced, including cost-of-living adjustments.”
The complete article at Think Progress: