Dealing with Colorado’s public employees’ retirement pension system is a math problem, not a partisan issue, Colorado State Treasurer Walker Stapleton said in Aspen on Wednesday.
Stapleton, a Republican seeking re-election in 2014, spoke to attendees at the Aspen Business Luncheon at the Hotel Jerome, and said the fund, known as PERA, is putting forth too rosy a forecast. Managers are counting on an annualized 8 percent rate of return over the next 30 years in order for the fund to meet its growing obligations to a half million Coloradans, which Stapleton said isn’t likely.
He then turned his attention to this fall’s $1 billion income tax increase proposal to fund public schools, which voters will decide in November. Crafters of the proposal have made a mistake by excluding PERA from the discussion, since teachers are major PERA beneficiaries, Stapleton said.
Without benefit and contribution reform, and caps on the percentage of teacher salaries districts can pay into PERA, the voter-approved funds could end up backfilling an “unsustainable” retirement system, he said. He criticized lawmakers for not including stipulations in the proposal that would require greater transparency on pension spending or explicitly state that funds would not go toward PERA.
He noted that if PERA fails to achieve an average 8 percent return on its investments over the course of 30 years, the terrain becomes rockier for schools and taxpayers.
Stapleton, who speaks quickly and passionately about fiscal policy, said he has little interest in social issues. Discussion of those issues, whether it’s gun control, marriage rights or drug policy, “crowds out common sense thinking” on what he terms are more pressing financial matters, said Stapleton, who was a real estate investor before being elected in 2010.
“We legalized pot to numb the pain on how much [taxpayer] money we are wasting,” Stapleton quipped.