Iowa GOP takes aim at IPERS

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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 — a well-managed, effective pension system that contributes $1.6 billion each year to the Iowa economy. Actuaries using audited, industry standards offer the 350,000 people contributing in the IPERS system 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 data — either in managing the system or in considering changes to it.

To provide data for this review, Republicans have entrusted a foundation funded by the Koch Brothers, which has a history of attacking public pension systems across the country. 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 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 the latest unwarranted and baseless attack against working families by Iowa Republicans. We saw it on collective bargaining, where deals produced legislation that gutted workers’ rights at the bargaining table. We saw it on workers’ compensation. We also have seen it with the state’s switch to a privatized Medicaid system. No fair and unbiased committees with experts in the field of medicine, business and other industries affected were formed to study the state’s system to determine the best path forward.

None of these laws and programs demanded radical change — if any at all. But all of the changes were driven by political and ideological motivation to the detriment of the working men and women of Iowa. Now IPERS is their target, and Republicans are using this Koch-funded group to tilt the scales in favor of policies they want to pursue. A look at 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. This is a clear message from the handbook. 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 look at a 401(k)-style plan and it will not be surprising when Reason produces a “study” recommending significant changes to the structure of IPERS.

It’s time for the Legislature to 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 as they are by Republicans in the Legislature. Iowa families are under attack, and retirement security is the latest target. The question is, will Iowa’s economy and families survive another all-out assault?

• Matt Sinovic is executive director of Progress Iowa. Comments: matt@progressiowa.org

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