Governor Terry Branstad says reforming the pension system for teachers is one of his legislative priorities for 2012, but it won’t be the focus of the “education summit” he’s hosting later this month.
“That is a separate issue, really, from this,” Branstad says. “The education summit is really going to be focusing on things like teacher preparation and leadership in the schools, student achievement and things like that as opposed to the compension and the retirement system (for teachers).”
However, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, a Republican, is to speak at the summit and in March, Christie signed ground-breaking legislation designed to make changes in pensions for future public-sector workers, including teachers.
“If you look at what Governor Christie has recently done, first of all, you’ve got to know that New Jersey’s got a huge financial problem,” Branstad says. “He was just recently able to get bipartisan support to reform their pension system.”
New Jersey had an estimated $46 billion gap in its pension system and the new rules make pensions for future employees, including teachers, less generous. Branstad, a Republican, says Iowa’s pension system is “not nearly in the terrible shape” that pension systems in other states are. “But I think there is concern about the pension systems and that is an issue that will be addressed next year,” Branstad says.
Iowa legislators made some “improvements” to the state’s pension system for public-sector workers last year, according to Branstad. The governor says legislators are scheduled to address pension issues every two years, and Branstad says he intends to work closely with lawmakers in the coming months to draft additional changes to pensions for teachers, state workers, police, fire fighters and other local government workers.
Branstad’s “education summit” is scheduled for July 25 and 26 in Des Moines and Branstad said months ago that he intended to call legislators back into special session afterwards to pass some of the reform ideas that come out of the summit. However, the Iowa legislature adjourned just last week after the third-longest regular session ever, and Branstad’s now saying he’ll wait ’til 2012 to ask legislators to act on his education agenda.
“I think, realistically, this is a huge undertaking,” Branstad says, “that this is something that we can make a top priority in the next session of the legislature.”
Branstad says he’ll also push, again, for property tax reform and he accuses legislators — who he does not name — of merely paying “lip service” to the effort. Changes in the property tax system were tabled at the end of the 2011 legislative session when legislators from the two political parties could not agree on a common approach to the problem.
AUDIO: Branstad comments from weekly news conference. 14 min