Raising the retirement age for the Colorado Public Employees’ Retirement Association would chip away at the pension plan’s $32 billion shortfall over the next three decades, said Brian Watson, the Republican candidate for state treasurer.
That number should at least match the required retirement age for Social Security benefits, which sits at 67 for people born after 1959, Watson said.
“We’re living longer and having more productive work lives, so at least increase that retirement age,” Watson said.
Senate Bill 200, passed by Colorado lawmakers in May during the last minutes of the legislative session, raised PERA’s retirement age from 58 to 64 years old. The bill also freezes annual cost-of-living allowances between 2018 and 2019, reducing the figure in future years from 2 percent to 1.5 percent.
Freezing or lowering that annual cost-of-living allowance could put an additional dent in that debt, Watson said.
“The main thing is, we want to make sure people get their primary benefit,” he said. “And if we can have a cost-of-living adjustment on top of it, great, but we need to make sure that that number is healthy and sustainable.”
A failure to address the $32 billion shortfall could, among other things, damage the state’s credit rating, Watson said.
But Senate Bill 200 addressed the shortfall, and Watson’s suggestions could harm an already foundering workforce, said Amie Baca-Oehlert, president of the Colorado Education Association.
The majority of PERA members are educators, Baca-Oehlert said, adding the state has a shortage of 3,000 teachers and that number will increase in the coming years.
“More than half the teaching force is eligible to retire in the next five years, and we’re just not bringing in the amount of new educators to bridge that gap,” Baca-Oehlert said.
Raising the retirement age and freezing or lowering the cost-of-living allowances would disincentivize prospective teachers from joining the workforce, she said. And it would force additional financial burdens on current teachers, many of whom work more than one job and cannot afford to live in the communities in which they teach.
A professional real estate investor, Watson also reminded the small crowd of about a dozen local Republicans, that he has bought several buildings in Colorado Springs — including the building which now houses the New Summit Charter Academy — and is, therefore, invested in the city. If he is elected, he pledged not to accept a salary from the state.
El Paso County Republican Party Chairman Josh Hosler, said the county’s conservative bent is needed to balance out “what is up north, with Denver and Boulder.” He urged them to give money and volunteer.
That balance is shifting, which is concerning, Watson said. Colorado is losing Republican voters, and local conservatives must make up the difference by approaching Democratic and unaffiliated voters and sway them to their side.
Watson said his opponent, Democratic candidate Dave Young, a state representative from Greeley, wants to double the state’s income tax and abolish the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights, or TABOR, which uses population growth and inflation data to calculate how much revenue governments are allowed to retain.
Young said he supports reviewing how TABOR interacts with the state’s property tax laws, but dismissed Watson’s assertions as grossly inaccurate.
“That’s not based in any fact,” Young said. “I have no idea what he’s reading or talking about.”