PERA: What’s going on and what YOU can do to save your retirement

The legislative session is now a month in and PERA is staying top of mind for state employees and legislators alike. 

At the Capitol, several entities are weighing in on your retirement.

The Chambers of Commerce are concerned that your pension is too “lavish” and other businesses can’t compete. The media is quick to take the opportunity to turn workers against other workers and give a bullhorn to anyone who would like to see your pension turn into a low-yield 401k. Gubernatorial candidate Walker Stapleton, is stumping on active employees increasing their contribution to 10% and retirees taking a 20-year COLA suspension.

Then, of course, you have the recommendations from the governor and the PERA board.

No matter what is being tossed around about YOUR retirement, there are facts that are conspicuously absent:

  • The PERA shortfall is due to mismanagement of the PERA funds by the state under former Gov. Owens — not because of PERA recipients.
  • PERA recipients receive only PERA when they retire — not social security. This is why they don’t pay into social security.
  • The state employee union set up PERA benefits in the 1930s and it’s thanks to the work of union members that you are eligible for the benefits from PERA.
  • State employee salaries are, on-average, 6% behind the private sector. Some departments, like DHS, are roughly 9% behind.
  • The state is struggling to recruit and retain quality workers due to the intense nature of the work and the lagging pay. PERA is one of the only tools the state has to increase recruitment and retention.

The only people who are going to fully understand PERA, its necessity and its history, are you, public employees in the PERA system.

As a union member you have some agency in what happens at the Capitol, you just need to take some action in conjunction with your fellow union members.

Between your WINS Executive Board, your COPE board, and the members who attended the COPE Summit, we have adopted a framework to protect active and retiree members from the threats to PERA. We will use this framework to talk to legislators. 

There is a risk in the size of PERA’s unfunded liability and how long it takes to reduce it. However, much of the appetite for shortening the timeline comes from groups and politicians acting on behalf of Wall Street bankers, who want to destroy PERA and move people to a lower yield, less stable 401k program.

While some small tweaks should be made, the proposals floating out there go too far, cut too deep, and lack our value of shared responsibility. PERA employees did not underfund their pension payments, but the state, due to how PERA is legally funded, is short to the tune of $4.5 billion.

Want to know more about how to protect your retirement? Call Hilary Glasgow at 719.545.0677 to find out how to attend Lobby Day with the Secure PERA Coalition. 

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