Just before state lawmakers in Colorado began their 2018 legislative session, a coalition of union members took part in a Colorado AFL-CIO rally on Jan. 8 at the state Capitol to draw attention to their priorities, which range from expanding collective bargaining to protecting retirement security. Joanne Slanovich, a retired member of the Douglas County Federation, spoke at the rally about policy changes that would make it harder for educators and other public workers to retire with dignity.
For Slanovich, her biggest concerns are recent proposals that would affect the Colorado Public Employees' Retirement Association, also known as PERA. Last November, Gov. John Hickenlooper announced a proposed package of changes to the PERA system. Under his plan, there would be no additional employer contributions, but employee contribution rates would increase by 2 percent (beginning Jan. 1, 2019) and the cost-of-living adjustments for all current and future retirees would be reduced to 1.25 percent. The proposals will be sent to the Colorado General Assembly for approval.
Retiree activists like Slanovich know these changes would hurt active and retired public employees. "PERA doesn't just cover teachers, it also ensures that firefighters, police officers and other government employees are able to retire securely after a lifetime of public service," says Slanovich. "After a lifetime of working hard and paying into our pension, I believe we, and all Americans for that matter, should have the opportunity to retire with dignity.
"When I first started teaching, I didn't really think about my retirement. But as a former teacher now, I am covered by PERA. Because I am covered by PERA, I am not eligible for Social Security, so I—like other retired teachers in Colorado—depend solely on my PERA benefits to survive."
Slanovich acknowledges that PERA needs a few tweaks to ensure it remains strong but says that lawmakers needs to start focusing on retirement security in Colorado, not making it harder to save.
"They keep chipping away at our pension and have done nothing to bolster the program. Every year, they want to cut public pensions, but they need to realize that every dollar taken from us is one less dollar we would have spent right here in Colorado at small and local businesses," says Slanovich. "We need to be investing in our state and the people that make it great."