About one in 10 Iowans is either getting a taxpayer-funded pension or is in line to get one.
A woman who served as Governor Branstad’s budget director for eight years predicts Branstad will wait at least a year — into what would be his sixth term in office — before proposing changes in pension plans for public sector workers in Iowa. Former Iowa Department of Management director Gretchen Tegeler is currently the executive director of the Taxpayers Association of Central Iowa. She met with the governor this past Monday to discuss the topic and Tegeler expects Branstad to bring “stakeholders” together in 2014 to discuss options.
“This year I’m guessing most of the effort will be on trying to educate and get all of the players to understand how these plans really more, what some of the risks are, what some of the vulnerability is for taxpayers and what some of the solutions could be that aren’t necessarily win-lose,” Tegeler says. “I mean, there are some out there that could be win-win.”
About 340,00 Iowans who’ve been state employees, school teachers or employees of city and county governments in Iowa are part of the Iowa Public Employees Retirement System, commonly called IPERS. Nearly 10,000 Iowa police officers, fire fighters and judges are part of three other taxpayer-funded pension systems. Critics say the pensions are too generous compared to what private sector employees are getting. Tegeler does not expect benefits for current government pensioners to change, but she says newly hired government workers could be given new options.
“Combination types of plans where employees have the opportunity to enjoy some of the upside of the market while having a certain guaranteed benefit, potentially protected, but at a lower level,” Tegeler says. “There are ideas out there. People are testing the waters.”
According to Tegeler, the governor “realizes it will take quite a bit of education” before Iowans believe changes are necessary in taxpayer-funded pension plans.
Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker signed a law that did away with collective bargaining rights for most public sector employees in Wisconsin and requiring those workers to make bigger contributions to their pensions. Walker’s action sparked a recall election in his state, but he survived. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie also approved pension reforms for government workers in his state. Both Christie and Walker are Republicans, like Branstad, who is seeking reelection in 2014.