In lively session, PERA board gives thumbs down to pension reform bills

Colorado PERA’s Board of Trustees voted Friday to oppose two bills pending before the state legislature that would have a direct impact on the pension plan’s board composition and funding mix.

Senate Bill 17-158, which would double the number of governor appointees on the board to six from the current three, generated some support among board members, but went down to defeat. Two governor-appointed members, Lynn Turner and Susan Murphy, abstained on the vote, saying they’d rather see the board shrink from its current 14 members as part of an overhaul. Governor appointee Roger Johnson supported it.

Turner said he might support the bill if it also included language reducing the size of the board. He asked State Treasurer Walker Stapleton, an ex officio PERA board member who joined the meeting by phone, to check with legislative sponsors to see if they would be amenable to amending the bill.

But Stapleton,  who played a role in shaping the bill, said he had no say over whether legislators might be willing to take PERA board members’ concerns and suggestions into account. That induced eye-rolling from other board members, who said they believed Stapleton played a larger role in the bill’s drafting than he would acknowledge.

The discussion had its heated moments, unlike the usual staid PERA board affairs. Board member Marcus Pennell, a Jeffco physics teacher, confronted Stapleton for impugning his qualifications to serve on the PERA board during a talk radio appearance.

And when Deputy State Treasurer Jonathan Forbes tried to speak after Stapleton had gone on at length in favor of the bill, board chair Tim O’Brien cut him off and said “we’re going to have one person represent the treasurer, Jon.” Forbes forcefully threw his water bottle and stack of papers agains the wall, said “you guys can all go f— yourselves,” and stormed out of the suddenly silent room. He did not return.

The second bill, Senate Bill 17-113 generated no heat or controversy. It would cap employer contributions to PERA at 2018 levels. Board members of all political persuasions heaped disdain on the bill, saying it was little more than showboating, since it would illegally bind future legislatures to a commitment, counter to law.

Stapleton was the lone supporter of the bill.

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