Excerpts of editorials from around Colorado
Denver Post, on reforming the state’s retirement system:
There are no easy answers left for repairing the fiscal health of Colorado’s Public Employees’ Retirement Association, but admitting that the $47 billion pension is sick is half the battle.
State Treasurer Walker Stapleton has admirably been beating that drum for years — and in thanks some have labeled him an alarmist — but the bleak new financial picture for PERA, laid out last Friday, makes it clear Stapleton has been right all along.
First, we want to be clear that PERA isn’t on the brink of insolvency, as it was in 2010, when reforms were put in place that required everyone — including taxpayers — to give a little to shore up the damages done by the Great Recession.
But those reforms have proved to be too little and too slowly implemented to make the retirement fund stable again.
PERA Executive Director Greg Smith said the new financial outlook accounts for a lower expected return on investment and longer lives of retirees as “a much higher-risk profile than we’re comfortable with.”
Another uncomfortable fact: Much of that “risk” is borne by taxpayers. As the program operates presently, current and future employees are shielded from investment losses, and much of their contribution to their savings actually comes from taxpayers at the front end.
For example, the Douglas County School District paid $54.5 million into PERA in 2016, which is 20.5 percent of the district’s payroll for PERA eligible employees, according to the district’s 2016 Comprehensive Annual Financial Report.
Comparatively, in 2007, the district paid only $27.1 million, or 10.6 percent.
It’s undeniable that the 2010 reforms implemented through the notorious Senate Bill 1 are hurting the budgets of our school districts, state governments, certain college systems, judicial offices and other public entities. Both employees and employers are paying more for the generous retirement plans of a previous generation.
We would urge lawmakers and Smith, as they consider a fix to PERA, to be cognizant of the fact that there is little left to give when it comes to asking state-funded entities to give more.
Certainly employees and retirees have made sacrifices, too.
Employees increased their contributions to 8 percent of their income, except for state troopers, who pay 10 percent. Retirees, who once enjoyed a reliable 3 percent annual cost-of-living increase, saw that amount reduced to 2 percent, and even less when PERA’s investment returns are negative.
The good news is that the PERA board — long reluctant to acknowledge trouble — is again discussing the need for change.
We hope that the conversations will prove to be unneeded because the slow recovery becomes a rapid boom that fuels the pension with needed investment income. But no retirement plan — public, private or federal — should be based on hope for good market conditions, even if they can amortize their risk — as PERA is doing — beyond 50 years.
It’s time, sadly, for PERA, lawmakers and retirees to sit back at the table and reconfigure the formula for financial soundness again.
The Vail Daily, Jan. 24, on improving Colorado roads:
If you’ve driven from, say, Gypsum to Denver lately, you know Interstate 70 is a mess. The constant is the damage on that road, as well as other state highways.
Winter is tough on roads. That’s especially true during periods when a lot of snow combines with warm daytime temperatures and cold temps at night. That’s as certain a recipe for potholes as spring rain on newly planted seeds is the formula for May flowers.
There isn’t much to do about the fresh damage. Solid patches require hot asphalt and warm days. That leaves temporary patches at the best solution for the worst damage.
Ultimately, better road repairs start with better roads, and that takes money the state doesn’t have at the moment.
While the Colorado Department of Transportation has for decades cried poverty at varying volumes, it’s a fact there simply isn’t much money for repair work, much less improving the state’s highway system. It’s also a fact that the state hasn’t raised the gasoline tax — now at 22 cents per gallon — since the early 1990s.
Like many issues, improving the state’s roads has fallen into a partisan vortex in the Colorado Legislature, so funding lags farther and farther behind needs.
With about 10,000 new residents pouring into Colorado every month, legislators may finally be spurred to action. There’s serious talk this session about some sort of tax increase to pay for the maintenance and construction backlog.
Talk right now seems to be focused on a sales tax. It would most quickly generate the largest revenue stream. That funding could then be used to re-pay bonds issued to do the most work most quickly.
A sensible tax increase might pass muster with state voters — if any proposal comes with a specific list of where the money will go — but a sales tax isn’t the best idea.
The biggest problem with a state sales tax increase is the burden would fall disproportionately on lower-income residents.
A better idea would be to increase the state’s gas tax. While still regressive, those who use the most fuel would pay the biggest share. Yes, that would probably hit hardest on the Western Slope, where driving distances are usually greater. Still, it seems the fairest solution.
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A 42-year-old snowboarder died Wednesday afternoon at Aspen Highlands after crashing into a tree on the Y12 line in Highland Bowl, according to the Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office and Aspen Skiing Co.