Lawmakers add to PERA’s long-term debt

By Brain Eason

THE COLORADO SUN

Just two years after Colorado approved sweeping pension reforms aimed at wiping out what was then an unfunded $32 billion debt to public sector retirees, state budget writers — facing a financial catastrophe of their own — have temporarily undone a portion of the landmark rescue package.

The Joint Budget Committee tentatively decided to eliminate the state’s $225 million annual payment to the pension next budget year, which begins July 1. Because the pension’s money is invested over time, that would add an estimated $990 million to the pension’s long-term debt if it’s approved by the full legislature.

The vote represents just the latest domino to fall as the fiscal impact of the coronavirus shutdown reverberates across Colorado’s public sector. And there may be more to come. So far, budget writers have not taken action on several other PERA changes they’re considering that could add anywhere from $500 million to $2.5 billion more to the pension’s unfunded debt, deepening a financial hole that the pension was just beginning to repair.

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