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Governor creates task force to study pension issues

SANTA FE – A legislative solvency fix for one of New Mexico’s large public retirement systems will probably have to wait until next year.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham on Monday ordered that a 19-member task force be created to study possible changes to the pension plans offered by the Public Employees Retirement Association, which cover state workers, municipal employees, judges, State Police and more.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham

“I expect diligent, expedient work from this group of stakeholders,” the Democratic governor said. “My expectation is we will assume this shared burden in an equitable fashion to reach our solvency goals, and this group will, I am certain, assure a steady future for PERA.”

Legislation intended to shore up the pension fund – in part by trimming the annual inflation-related pension adjustments that retirees get – has not advanced at the Roundhouse since being introduced more than three weeks ago.

That bill, House Bill 338, has generated strong opposition from a group representing retired state employees, whose members say they were not consulted before a divided PERA board endorsed the proposed legislation.

Concerns about New Mexico pension liabilities have intensified in recent years – despite a 2013 solvency fix aimed at putting the retirement fund on more solid ground – and prompted a national credit rating agency to downgrade the state’s bond rating in June 2018.

The Public Employees Retirement Association, which covers roughly 50,000 active workers and 40,000 retirees, had an unfunded liability of $6 billion as of the end of the 2018 budget year. That figure represents the difference between assets and future benefits owed.

Meanwhile, the 19-member task force created by Lujan Grisham will include PERA officials, labor union leaders, retiree representatives and others.

It will be tasked with providing recommendations to the governor by Aug. 30. Those suggestions would form the basis for legislation during next year’s 30-day session.

Lujan Grisham said on the campaign trail last year that she would oppose cuts to benefits, including any reduction in the annual cost-of-living adjustments that retired state workers and teachers receive.

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