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Wednesday Churn: PERA brass upbeat

Updated 12:45 p.m. – Top execs of the Public Employees’ Retirement Association gave an optimistic report today to the Joint Budget Committee, saying the system’s financial prospects are improving because of investment gains and reforms passed by the legislature last year.

PERA had $36.9 billion in net assets as of last Nov. 30, compared to $35.7 billion at the end of 2009, said Meredith Williams, executive director.

He added that while assets are growing after a steep drop in 2008, the system’s future liabilities are declining because of Senate Bill 10-001, which changed overall benefit rules for new employees and reduced annual cost-of-living increases for retirees from 3.5 percent to 0 last year and 2 percent this year and into the future. (A class-action lawsuit challenging the COLA change is pending.)

“Senate Bill 1 is working; we would expect it will continue to work,” Williams said. The overall intent of the legislation is to restore the pension to system to full solvency over 30 years. PERA covers all teachers in Colorado and a substantial number of higher education employees.

Committee members had no substantive questions for the PERA execs. Some legislators, particularly conservative Republicans, remain skeptical about the future of the system and have suggested changes in the PERA board and a shift to a defined contribution system.

See slides from the presentation PERA made to the committee. (A chart about the school division is on page 7.) You also can read the 2009 annual report here. The 2010 report won’t be available until next spring.

Updated 10 a.m. – Gov. Bill Ritter announced today that he’ll be joining Colorado State University after he leaves office next week.

Effective Feb. 1, Ritter will become director of the Center for the New Energy Economy at CSU and also will assume the title of senior scholar in the university’s School of Global Environmental Sustainability.

Perhaps even more than education, helping build “a new energy economy” has been a top priority of Ritter’s one-term administration. He’ll be returning to the school where he earned his bachelor’s degree, an experience he’s referred to repeatedly during the last four years when discussing the value of higher education. Ritter has a law degree from the University of Colorado and was Denver district attorney before becoming governor.

Lt. Gov. Barbara O’Brien, a leader in Ritter administration education initiatives, announced earlier that she’ll be joining the Piton Foundation after leaving office.


What’s churning:

Despite bleak fiscal conditions that could thwart some of their priorities, governors and lawmakers in some states – bolstered in places by new Republican majorities – are expected to press forward this year with ambitious education proposals that could include changing teacher job protections and expanding school choice.

Legislative sessions are convening during a period of rapid change in education policy at the state level, pushed along by forces that defy easy political categorization.  Get the details from our partners at Education Week.

What’s on tap:

The legislative Joint Budget Committee meets from 9 a.m. to noon to noon on the 2010-11 budget for the state Department of Personnel and Administration, including the Public Employees’ Retirement Association.

Good reads from elsewhere: