Colorado pension program uncertainty causing angst among teachers, other public employees

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DENVER -- Among the reasons some Colorado teachers are walking out of class later this week come from concerns about their retirement. More than 560,000 state employees depend on PERA – The Public Employees Retirement Association – for their pension, including teachers.

Here are some quick facts about where PERA currently stands and the efforts underway in the General Assembly to shore up the fund’s future.

-- Depending on the estimate, PERA has anywhere from $32 billion to $50 billion in unfunded liabilities.

-- Among the ideas to stabilize the fund Colorado lawmakers are considering in the final days of this year’s session: changing the retirement age, adjusting the cost of living formula, and revising contributions from both employees and their employers.

-- The state teachers’ union has concerns about raising the retirement age and supports a plan where employees or employers would have to put more into the fund.

-- Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) addressed the fact lawmakers are considering using general fund dollars to help with PERA during a Tuesday news conference. He said some of that general fund money could be split between education and transportation – another topic of intense debate in this year’s session. 

While he would not say how the money should be used, he said he does realize the dissatisfaction that can occur.

"I think it's going to be one of those things where no one is going to be happy.  Each side thinks the other side is paying too much or giving in too much," said Hickenlooper.

Negotiations are ongoing this week ahead of the teacher walkouts planned for Thursday and Friday, in which teachers will again plead for more teacher funding, better PERA funding and higher wages.

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