Iowa is fortunate to have a strong public pension system. The Iowa Public Employees’ Retirement System (IPERS) provides pensions to teachers, firefighters, and other public employees throughout the Hawkeye State. In fact, one in ten Iowans is a member of IPERS. IPERS is funded at 84 percent, which is a healthy funding level. Despite all of its success at providing retirement security, IPERS is currently under attack by anti-pension forces in the Iowa legislature.
This all started in November 2016 when then-Governor Terry Branstad said he was open to possible changes to IPERS. Currently the Iowa legislature is undertaking an official review of IPERS. The Reason Foundation, a noted anti-pension organization funded by John Arnold, has offered to conduct an analysis of Iowa’s public pensions for the legislature. Reason’s “analysis” will almost certainly call for major changes to IPERS. Reason recently assisted Republican legislators in Michigan in their move to undermine the pension system for public school employees. Following a similar playbook in Iowa would be devastating for working families there.
Each year IPERS pumps $1.8 billion into the Iowa economy through modest benefits that average $16,000 annually. This is economic activity that should not be underestimated in a small, mostly rural state like Iowa. As Iowa’s population continues to shift from rural areas to larger cities, those small towns will find that they rely on the spending of pension benefits by retirees to stimulate local economies.
Republican political leaders in Iowa appear to be laying the groundwork to attack and possibly eliminate IPERS. Earlier this year, the Iowa legislature severely undermined collective bargaining rights for public employees. Just as with the move to “study” IPERS, Republican legislators relied on outside, right-wing special interest groups in their attack on collective bargaining. Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds has said she is open to considering possible changes to IPERS. All of this seems to be setting the stage to push for major changes to Iowa’s public pensions.
As the Iowa legislature moves forward with its study of IPERS and the Reason Foundation prepares its “analysis,” we will be tracking the latest developments and working day and night to protect pensions. Will you join us?