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Looming statehouse decision on PERA debt affects millions of Coloradans

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Colorado’s legislature made a $225 million annual promise to itself as well as the 630,000 members of the state pension fund and now, having broken that promise in 2020, lawmakers say they’re prepared to make things right.

Legislators have different ideas for how to do that, though, and their decision will affect not only the members of the Public Employees’ Retirement Association (PERA), but everyone else in Colorado who relies at any level on state government services and programs.

Alec Garnett, the speaker of the Colorado House, said “I think my jaw dropped and hit the ground” after seeing the price tag on a proposed 2022 bill that the legislative subcommittee overseeing the state pension fund wrote to make up for last year’s nonpayment.

The amount, in excess of $300 million, is a major outlier among the couple dozen proposals on a wide range of topics that lawmakers have crafted and given initial support to ahead of the next legislative session, which begins Jan. 12. That money would go toward paying down the more than $30 billion in unfunded debt to PERA retirees.

PERA’s membership includes current and former public employees, such as teachers, first responders, prison staff, university workers and snowplow drivers. All other Coloradans have a stake, too, in large part because the longer it takes to pay down the billions in PERA debt, the more years of state budgeting in which huge sums are unavailable for General Fund priorities like roads, schools, Medicaid administration and courts.

A promise from lawmakers

The legislature in 2018 passed the bipartisan and heavily debated Senate Bill 200, promising to kick in $225 million every year to pay off pension fund debt within 30 years. There were a few motivating factors at the time, including the threat that Colorado’s credit rating could be downgraded if the debt remained indefinitely.

That bill not only established a funding threshold for the legislature to meet each year, but also increased contributions for employees and employers. Next year employees will have to automatically contribute 11% of each paycheck toward retirement — that’s a slight bump from this year — and employers will have to contribute close to double that amount. Some of the money from the employer side goes to paying down the debt.

But while workers and employers have had to meet their obligations, lawmakers have not: With the pandemic just underway and lawmakers concerned about a profound and enduring recession decimating state finances, they decided through the budget last year to pass on the promised $225 million contribution. That recession never came to be — the state economy has already more than rebounded, with record projected money for the next budget — so now lawmakers are prepared to make up for last year.

“There are few opportunities the legislature has to keep its word,” House Minority Leader Hugh McKean, a Loveland Republican, said at a hearing last month on bills written by interim committees this summer and fall. “We make decisions on the fly when we need to, … but now we can look back and say, nope, we didn’t need to do that, let’s make (PERA) whole.”

Colorado’s Pension Review Subcommittee, which wrote the proposal, believes the state should also pay about $79 million in lost interest — investment gains the fund would have accrued above and beyond the $225 million, had it been paid in 2020. Hence the proposed price tag that shocked the speaker.

All of that comes on top of the expected $225 million the legislature would kick in this year, pursuant to the 2018 promise. This would mean roughly half a billion dollars, or more, out of a $40 billion state budget for the 2022-23 fiscal year, for this one purpose.

Disagreement over lost gains

A bipartisan committee of legislative leaders voted 15-2 in favor of repayment of the 2020 debt. The bill to do so is a sure thing to be introduced, in some form, during the next session.

But paying for lost investment gains seems less popular, as lawmakers say they worry about setting an unfair precedent.

State Sen. Dominick Moreno, a Commerce City Democrat and the vice chair of the legislature’s Joint Budget Committee, noted last month at the time of the vote that while the state has restored billons in funding eliminated early in the pandemic, it hasn’t made a habit of going above and beyond the amount cut.

“If we’re going to increase it (with interest) it is still largely speculative, in my view, and hasn’t happened for any other cut that was made,” Moreno said.

Republican state Sen. Paul Lundeen of Monument is also skeptical.

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Mikaela Shiffrin leads 17-member U.S. ski team nominated for Olympics

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Mikaela Shiffrin leads 17-member U.S. ski team nominated for Olympics

PARK CITY, Utah — Two-time Olympic champion Mikaela Shiffrin leads the 17-member list for the U.S. Alpine skiing team nominated Friday for the Beijing Winter Games.

There are nine first-time Olympians on the roster, which still awaits confirmation from the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee.

Shiffrin heads to her third Olympics. She already owns three medals, including a gold in slalom in 2014 and in giant slalom in 2018.

Other Americans who previously made Olympic teams and are back are Breezy Johnson, Tricia Mangan, Jackie Wiles, Bryce Bennett, Ryan Cochran-Siegle, Tommy Ford and Travis Ganong.

The first-timers are Keely Cashman, Katie Hensien, AJ Hurt, Mo Lebel, Paula Moltzan, Nina O’Brien, Bella Wright, River Radamus and Luke Winters.

The Alpine schedule in Beijing starts Feb. 6 with the men’s downhill, followed by the women’s giant slalom on Feb. 7.

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Ravens part ways with defensive coordinator Don ‘Wink’ Martindale

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Ravens part ways with defensive coordinator Don ‘Wink’ Martindale

The Ravens announced Friday night that they’ve parted ways with defensive coordinator Don “Wink” Martindale.

Martindale, a beloved coach among players and one of the NFL’s most aggressive play-callers, had served under coach John Harbaugh in Baltimore since 2012. After coaching the team’s linebackers for six years, he took over as defensive coordinator for Dean Pees in 2018.

From 2018 to 2020, the Ravens had one of the NFL’s most successful defenses, ranking in the top 10 in efficiency each year under Martindale, according to Football Outsiders. This year, however, injuries and inconsistency in their well-regarded secondary led to a precipitous fall; they finished 28th overall in DVOA, their lowest ranking since the franchise’s first year in Baltimore.

“After several productive conversations, Don and I have agreed to move forward in separate directions,” Harbaugh said in a statement. “We have had a great run on defense, and I am very proud of what has been accomplished and the work he has done.

“Don has been a major contributor to the success of our defense since 2012, and especially since he became defensive coordinator four years ago. He has done a great job. Now it is time to pursue other opportunities. Sometimes the moment comes, and it’s the right time.”

This story will be updated.

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The Chicago Bears interviewed Ryan Poles for their GM vacancy. Here’s what to know about the Kansas City Chiefs executive director of player personnel.

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The Chicago Bears interviewed Ryan Poles for their GM vacancy. Here’s what to know about the Kansas City Chiefs executive director of player personnel.

The Chicago Bears have reached out to at least 15 general manager candidates and 11 coaching candidates for interviews. As they go through the process, we’re looking at each of the prospective hires.

Ryan Poles interviewed for the GM opening Friday, the team announced.

Ryan Poles

Title: Kansas City Chiefs executive director of player personnel

Age: 36

Experience

Poles has been with the Chiefs for nearly 13 years, working his way up from player personnel assistant to college scouting administrator and coordinator, director of college scouting, assistant director of player personnel and now executive director of player personnel this season. He was part of the Chiefs team that won Super Bowl LIV.

Poles was an offensive lineman at Boston College, where he was part of the line that protected quarterback Matt Ryan. He signed as an undrafted free agent with the Bears before working as a recruiting assistant for BC in 2008-09.

You should know

Poles also is interviewing with the New York Giants and Minnesota Vikings this year and made it to the second round of Giants interviews. He was a finalist for the Carolina Panthers GM job last year.

Chicago connection

Poles’ time with the Chiefs has spanned multiple GMs and coaches. He was on the Chiefs staff when former Bears coach Matt Nagy was the quarterbacks coach and then offensive coordinator under coach Andy Reid.

What has been said

Poles spoke to his hometown paper two years ago about finding leadership among the players he scouts: “We see these guys on TV as athletes every week, but they’re around each other all the time, too. So the locker room has to be good. If you don’t have a strong locker room, if you don’t keep everyone on the same page and if you don’t have leaders to keep the focus forward, you’ll lose it.”

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