Minneapolis City Council President Barb Johnson is one of two new members Gov. Mark Dayton has appointed to the Public Employees Retirement Association (PERA) board that oversees the state’s public pension fund.
Johnson previously served on the board of the Minneapolis Employees Retirement Fund. She then worked on merging that system, and later the city police and fire pension systems, with the state’s.
“There’s a lot of discussion going on, obviously, at the state but also nationally about public pensions and their stability,” she said. “Minnesota is in a much, much, much better place than a lot of public pensions, and I want to make sure that it continues to be a fully viable program.”
Johnson’s PERA term begins Jan. 23 and ends Jan. 4, 2021.
Established in 1931, PERA serves more than 2,000 local government entities, according to its 2016 annual report. As of June 2016, there were nearly 166,000 active employees and more than 105,000 benefit recipients served by PERA’s three defined benefit plans.
Those plans are now funded at different levels. At the end of 2016, the general employees’ money was funded at 76 percent, the police and fire fund was about 88 percent and the correctional fund was about 96 percent.
Those levels are relatively high. Numbers from Public Plans Data, a national pension research project, show that in 2015 state and local pensions nationwide were funded at an aggregate of less than 74 percent, down from a peak of more than 100 percent in 2001.
For Johnson, maintaining a healthy Minnesota pension fund is personal. When her father died at 39, she said, the family was able to survive on the pension he earned as a Minneapolis firefighter.
“My mother raised seven children and we had stability in our home because my father had a Minneapolis firefighter’s pension,” Johnson said.