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SB10-001: PERA Bill Clears Colo. Senate

By Todd Engdahl, EDUCATION NEWS COLORADO

The Senate Monday morning voted 25-10 to pass Senate Bill 10-001, the measure intended to restore the Public Employees’ Retirement Association to solvency over the next 30 years.

Public Employees’ Retirement Association headquarters in Denver.

The bill is of vital interest to the education community, given that PERA covers all Colorado school teachers and classified staff and thousands of college and university employees.

While some critics of the bill have attacked it as unfair to retirees or complained that it doesn’t go far enough, during preliminary discussion Friday senators rejected all  major attempts to amend it and passed it on a voice vote.

That was expected, given that all 21 Democratic and three Republicans were cosponsors. The prime sponsors are Senate President Brandon Shaffer, D-Boulder, and Minority Leader Josh Penry, R-Grand Junction.

The bill is built on a detailed proposal unveiled by PERA last autumn and was amended Tuesday by the Senate Finance Committee largely to reflect concerns raised by a coalition of employee and retiree groups, including the Colorado Education Association. (See this story for background on that meeting and the amendments.)

The loudest grassroots opposition to the bill has been to the proposal, somewhat tweaked by the amendment, to cut retiree annual cost of livings increases from 3.5 percent a year to 2 percent, regardless of the actual rate of inflation.

Sen. Keith King, R-Colorado Springs

Sen. Keith King, R-Colorado Springs, has emerged as the leading critic of the bill among a small group of Senate Republicans who oppose it.

King believes the bill is “too rich” and won’t provide a permanent fix. In two committees and on the floor King has proposed unsuccessful amendments to require a defined contribution option much like a 401(k) be offered, change calculation of a retiree’s benefits, ban the practice of workers buying additional years of service and make other ch

The bill nowmoves to the House, where many of the sa me debates likely will be repeated.

Democratic leaders hope to get the bill passed and signed by March 1 to avoid PERA having to pay the 3.5 percent 2010 COLA that’s due to kick in on that date.

The House Friday afternoon was doing preliminary debate on the package of controversial tax rebate repeal bills. The leadership also hopes to push those through by March 1 so some of the revenue can be used to help balance the 2009-10 state budget.

Advocates say failure to raise that revenue would require further cuts in state aid to K-12 schools.

Use the Education Bill Tracker for links to bill texts and status information.

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