The elections that will be held on November 6th promise to be some of the most significant in recent years. All 435 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives are up for election, as well as 35 U.S. Senate seats and 36 governor’s mansions. Additionally, numerous state legislative seats and many local races will be on the ballot. Today we conclude a three-part series examining some of the gubernatorial elections in November and how the outcome of those elections could affect public pensions in those states. We began our series with Oregon and Iowa and continued with Kansas and Colorado. Today we examine several states, including Georgia, Illinois, Michigan, and Wisconsin.
The Georgia gubernatorial contest might feature two candidates with the most distinct ideological positions. Democratic nominee Stacey Abrams is the former minority leader of the Georgia House of Representatives and would be the first black woman elected governor of any state if she wins. Republican nominee Brian Kemp is the Georgia Secretary of State. Public pensions have not been a major issue in the campaign, but anti-pension ideologues like the Reason Foundation are beginning to lay the groundwork for an attack on pensions in Georgia. If Abrams prevails, she has promised to protect pensions for teachers and other public employees. While Kemp has said little about pensions, it seems likely that he would be more open to making harmful changes, given his campaign promises to “Implement State Spending Cap” and “Eliminate wasteful programs, tax incentives, bureaucracy” — all themes Reason and their allies would play upon to attack pensions.
We conclude this series with two Midwestern states where public pensions are frequently in the news. Public pensions in Michigan have been under attack for more than two decades now. In 1997, Michigan closed its pension plan for state workers — a move that increased costs for taxpayers and gutted retirement security for public employees. During the past decade, the state has slowly chipped away at the pension plan for teachers. Following legislation passed in 2017, new school employees in Michigan now have a choice between a 401(k)-style defined contribution plan and a hybrid defined benefit-defined contribution plan that is less generous than the hybrid plan that preceded it.
Democratic nominee Gretchen Whitmer, the former minority leader of the state senate, is expected to defeat Republican nominee and current state Attorney General Bill Schuette. If Whitmer prevails in the gubernatorial election, it will be worth watching to see if she advocates for any legislation to improve pension benefits for public employees in the state.
Finally, Wisconsin is once again a gubernatorial battleground. Incumbent Republican Governor Scott Walker has won two previous gubernatorial elections and survived a contentious recall election. This year he is running for a third term against State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Evers, the Democratic nominee. Despite his open hostility to public employees and attacks upon their collective bargaining rights, Gov. Walker has largely left alone the Wisconsin Retirement System (WRS), the fully funded statewide pension plan. WRS’s success as a plan has largely protected it from political attack. Gov. Walker even touted the health of the plan during his brief presidential campaign in 2016. While Gov. Walker has given no indication that he would seek to make harmful changes to WRS if he wins a third term, many Wisconsin public employees would likely sleep easier if their chief antagonist is no longer in office, where he could threaten their retirement security.
You can find information about voting in your state via Nonprofit VOTE. Your vote matters in this election and every election. When you vote, be sure to vote for candidates who support public pensions and retirement security for working families.