An assault on IPERS

Once again, Republicans in the Iowa legislature are inviting an out-of-state attack on the economic security of Iowa families.

Their target is the Iowa Public Employees’ Retirement System (IPERS): an effective pension system that contributes $1.6 billion each year to the Iowa economy. IPERS offers its 350,000 contributing workers what Iowa has long promised: a secure retirement that the state can afford.

Now Iowa Republicans are threatening to break that retirement promise by putting the Reason Foundation, an out-of-state special interest group, in charge of an official review of IPERS. Nothing is more critical to assuring a secure pension system than using good underlying data. But to provide data for their review, Republicans have entrusted a so-called foundation funded by the Koch Brothers, which has a history of attacking state public pension systems. One Republican state senator claims that no decision has been made about the future of IPERS, but their decision to outsource their review to a highly questionable group with a track record of siding against workers is like picking a player from one team to referee a game. How can we trust their credibility?

Unfortunately this is just the latest unwarranted and baseless attack against working families by Iowa Republicans. We saw it on collective bargaining, where backroom deals produced legislation that gutted workers’ rights at the bargaining table. We also saw it on workers’ compensation and the state’s switch to privatized Medicaid. No noteworthy problems were identified that needed to be changed, no calls were made for change by voters during the 2016 election campaign, but the governor and Republican legislators made drastic changes that harmed Iowa’s working families.

None of these laws and programs demanded change. All of the changes were driven by partisan politics, to the detriment of the working men and women of Iowa. IPERS is their next target, and Republicans are using this out of state, Koch-funded group to tilt the scales in favor of policies they want to pursue. Reason’s own “pension reform handbook” from 2014 sets forth a strategy to push states away from “defined benefit” pension systems (IPERS is one), toward “defined contribution” plans such as 401(k) plans that pose significantly more risk to the family depending on their retirement. In addition, Reason has received over $3.5 million from one notable critic of public pensions, John Arnold. Add to this the clear preference of Gov. Kim Reynolds for a 401(k)-style plan, and it will not be surprising when Reason produces a “study” recommending significant changes to the structure of IPERS, to the detriment of employees either now, in the future, or both.

The legislature must stop the partisan attacks on Iowans, and provide honest scrutiny of who is advising our policy makers. The Reason Foundation should not be consulted by the state, let alone be empowered by Republicans in the legislature. Iowa families are under attack, and retirement security is the latest target. Will Iowa’s economy and families survive another all-out assault?