Bill raises hurdle for IPERS changes

GOP seeks to deflect Democratic 'fearmongering'

The State Capitol building is shown in Des Moines on Tuesday, January 13, 2015. (Adam Wesley/The Gazette)
The State Capitol building is shown in Des Moines on Tuesday, January 13, 2015. (Adam Wesley/The Gazette)
2018 LEGISLATIVE SESSION STORIES

03:39PM | Tue, February 13, 2018

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DES MOINES — Republican lawmakers have said throughout the young legislative session that they have no plan to make changes to Iowa’s public employee retirement fund system, and that Democrats who were warning of potential changes were fearmongering.

One Republican legislator is taking things even further.

Iowa Sen. Rick Bertrand, a Republican from Sioux City, last week introduced a resolution that would begin the process of adding significant, protective layers to the state’s public employee retirement fund system.

Bertrand said he opposes any changes to the Iowa Public Employees’ Retirement System, or IPERS. His resolution would begin the process of amending the Iowa Constitution to require any changes made to the system be approved by a two-thirds majority in the House and Senate.

Current law requires only a simple majority in both chambers and the governor’s signature.

“Iowa’s pension system affects so many working families in Iowa, and I am tired of the fearmongering. This proposal would force both political parties to come to the table and communicate when changes are needed,” Bertrand said in a statement.

Iowa’s public employee pension funds are funded at more than 80 percent, according to multiple independent studies, and that typically ranks it among the healthiest public pension funds in the nation.

Some Republicans, including former Gov. Terry Branstad, have said the state public workers retirement system requires changes in order to make the program sustainable so workers can continue to receive the benefits they expect.

Statehouse Democrats held a news conference shortly before this year’s legislative session began to warn against Republican attempts to change the system, which Democrats said would result in reduced retirement benefits for those in the program.

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Statehouse Republican leaders accused Democrats of playing to voter fears and said they have no plans to change IPERS this year.

Bertrand wants to make it more challenging for any future legislatures to make any changes to IPERS. He said requiring a two-thirds majority instead of a simple majority would help ensure any changes are made by including both political parties in the process, not just whichever party is in control of state government at the time.

“I’m a ‘no’ on any changes to the IPERS system until I feel confident that both sides of this issue are fully represented,” said Bertrand. “Working families’ retirements should not be solely in the hands of which ever party is in control at the time. This change would not prevent change, it simply improves the odds of a bipartisan agreement.”

Democratic Party raises $1 million

The Iowa Democratic Party raised more than $1 million in 2017, according to recently filed state campaign finance reports.

The Republican Party of Iowa raised just shy of $588,000 in 2017.

Iowa Democrats also finished 2017 with a significant advantage over their GOP counterparts in cash on hand: the Democrats had nearly $660,000 in their campaign account at the end of the year, while Republicans had just more than $6,000.

Republican state party chairman Jeff Kaufmann said the GOP’s effort was solid in a non-election year.

Democratic state party chairman Troy Price said the Democrats’ big haul will help them boost candidates in this fall’s midterm elections.

“Our goal is to have the necessary funds to support our grass roots organizing efforts and our Democratic candidates statewide. We believe we are in a strong position to meet that goal,” Price said.

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The Democrats in 2017 got their biggest help from the state public employees union AFSCME, which donated $80,000, and from the national Democratic Party’s legislative fundraising arm, which donated $70,000 to Iowa.

The Republicans got their biggest help from right at home: the campaigns of House Speaker Linda Upmeyer, Senate Majority Leader Bill Dix and state Sen. Jake Chapman donated $50,000 apiece.

Erin Murphy covers Iowa politics and government. His email address is erin.murphy@lee.net. Follow him on Twitter at @ErinDMurphy.

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