I feel compelled to respond to the Washington Post editorial which was reprinted in the Camera on Nov. 8th, and Larry Wegryzn’s Open Forum letter of Nov. 9th, lest there be a misunderstanding about Colorado’s public pension fund, known as PERA. PERA is not bankrupt as Mr. Wegryzn states, and significant changes to the plan were enacted via Senate Bill 10-001, to increase its long-term solvency in light of changing conditions which have affected all sectors of the economy.
Under PERA, state employees currently contribute 10.5% of their gross income and state employers contribute 12.25%. (Contribution rates vary for different public employment groups such as teachers, troopers, and judges.) For comparison purposes, except for a special law effective only for calendar year 2011, Social Security contributions are 6.2% for employees and 6.2% for employers. In general, the PERA plan is a substitute for Social Security and other retirement plans in which both employees and employers make contributions. If a PERA retiree has also contributed enough to Social Security to qualify for a benefit, the majority of that benefit is eliminated by the Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP), so there is no double-dipping. In fact, it could be argued that public retirees are legally required to forfeit most of their earned Social Security benefit to subsidize other SS recipients.
Public employees EARN their pensions through long years of work in jobs that often pay less than comparable positions in the private sector, or which have no private sector equivalent, e.g., police officers, firefighters, etc. Public pensions are NOT paid from tax dollars; like all pension funds, public or private, individual or group, they are paid from the yield of investments made with the contributions to the plan.
Facts about public policy matters are more useful than inflammatory editorials and letters that do not, in any case, apply to the situation in Colorado. More importantly, editorials such as that published by the Washington Post and reprinted by the Camera only serve to pit one group of workers in our society against another. Public pension plans, at least in Colorado, are not what’s wrong with the economy and public sector employees and retirees are not the enemy. There is a word for this sort of thing, and it’s called scapegoating.