Throughout the last few months, we have explored the history of several states and their pension funds including Kentucky, Oklahoma, and Kansas. Each of these states’ pension funds can speak of their successes when bolstering communities through economic investment and supporting jobs. Although they have been successful, many times lawmakers have not treated these funds appropriately. In Wyoming, lawmakers have always funded the pension system, but in recent years public employees have been forced to pay more into their pension system over the last seven years in order to get the state to invest more as well.
Part five of our historical guide series takes a look at the Equality State and its history with public employee pensions.
Background on the Wyoming Retirement System
The State of Wyoming has a storied history of public pension systems. In 1935, The Paid Firemen’s Pension Plan was created to provide a secure retirement for the state’s paid firefighters. In 1943, the Wyoming Teachers’ Retirement System was created to do the same for the state’s educators. Then, in 1953, lawmakers combined the new system into a larger public pension fund called the Wyoming Retirement System (WRS). Since 1953, several funds have been created – all under the umbrella of WRS. The funds included in WRS are:
- Teachers Pension Plan
- Public Employee Pension Plan
- Law Enforcement Pension Plan
- Warden, Patrol, and DCI Plan
- Paid Fire B Pension Plan
- Judicial Pension Plan
- Guard Firefighter Pension Plan
- Volunteer Firefighter & EMT Pension Plan
WRS also runs a 457 Deferred Compensation Plan that provides a third leg of the three-legged stool of retirement: Social Security, a pension plan, and a personal retirement savings plan.
WRS covers nearly 80,000 active and retired public employees across the State of Wyoming.
Recent Legislative Efforts
In recent years, lawmakers in the State of Wyoming have not pushed through plan design changes to WRS that would have harmed retirement security for public employees. Public employees have had to increase their contributions to the pension system and there have been threats of moving newly hired employees into a defined contribution plan.
In 2013 and 2014, NPPC’s coalition in-state, the Wyoming Coalition for a Healthy Retirement (WCHR), fought hard to boost funding to WRS, which had been lagging since the start of the Great Recession. Along with this boost, public employees had to increase the amount of money they contributed to the plan out of each in every paycheck.
In 2015, even after the funding boost and increased contributions from employees, some lawmakers threatened to introduce legislation that would move all newly hired employees into a defined contribution plan. Through hard work and lawmaker education, the bill never saw the light of day.
From 2016 to 2018, WCHR fought to ensure lawmakers were fully funding WRS each and every year. The coalition also compromised on an agreement for the state to put more money into the fund for increased contributions from public employees. Additionally, legislation was defeated in 2017 that would have introduced an early retirement component to WRS, which would have led to a mass exodus of public employees and ultimately increased the unfunded liability of the plan.
In 2019, retired public employees pushed to receive their first inflation adjustment in 11 years. A bill was sponsored by the Speaker of the House that would have provided two “13th checks” for retired public employees in 2019 and 2020 failed in committee. In 2020, retired public employees are pushing for an inflation adjustment for the second year in a row.
As readers can see, public employees have compromised with lawmakers several times by paying more into WRS out of each of their paychecks in return for increased funding into the system.