Government

Iowa parties tangle over fate of IPERS

Democrats issue warnings; GOP decries 'scare tactics'

DES MOINES — Democrats warned Wednesday that Iowa’s public employee pension fund will be the target of GOP changes if Republicans hold onto control of the governorship and General Assembly in the Nov. 6 election — but Gov. Kim Reynolds and others immediately dismissed that as “scare tactics.”

The Iowa Public Employees’ Retirement System is a defined-benefit program that assures a monthly payment in retirement for its roughly 350,000 members.

Democrats say Republicans have talked about making “tweaks” or shifting to defined contribution or “hybrid” approaches that would threaten future enrollment and weaken a system that State Treasurer Mike Fitzgerald — chair of the IPERS board and fund custodian — described as being currently “strong, secure and sustainable.”

Fitzgerald, a Democrat, urged Iowans to “be vigilant” on any changes.

Republicans said Wednesday they have no plans to make major revisions to IPERS.

But Danny Homan, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 61, told a Statehouse news conference there were no indications before the 2016 election that Republicans planned to “gut” collective bargaining rights for public employees or revamp the workers’ compensation system — but they made the dramatic changes after taking office.

“Their actions speak far louder than their words,” Homan said.

Reynolds, speaking with reporters in Waukee earlier in the day, said that as an IPERS member herself she recognizes the system will need to make routine adjustments to ensure solvency. But the governor said that “doesn’t mean that we’re going to take it away or repeal it.”

Iowa Democratic Party Chair Troy Price said Reynolds and GOP candidates in recent days have released a flurry of statements, editorials and social media posts pledging their support of the program, yet their previous actions and statements in support of privatization or moving to a “hybrid” system that would include the current defined benefit pension arrangement as well as a defined contribution component say otherwise.

“Gov. Reynolds has made clear she would support a change to the IPERS system that moves it towards a privatized system, just like her disastrous privatization of Medicaid,” Price said. “We are now seeing the governor and other Republicans across the state give us false promises in the hopes of winning an election.”

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Reynolds countered that it’s Democrats who are raising a phony issue to sway voters. “I want to be clear. That is a scare tactic. When you have no ideas and nothing to run on and you want to hide the fact that you’re going to raise taxes on hardworking Iowans, farmers and small businesses, that’s when you do the little deflection. Look over here. Let’s talk about something that’s not true,” she said.

Democrats pointed to a measure offered by a key Senate Republican last session that proposed switching state employees hired after July 2019 to a 401(k)-style system. But the proposal failed to advance, and no IPERS changes were considered in the House.

“The rumors you are hearing about IPERS are 100 percent false,” House Speaker Linda Upmeyer, R-Clear Lake, said in a statement. “ ... There are no secret plans to change IPERS for current employees OR new hires. None. We support IPERS and will continue to protect it and make it stronger for the future.”

l Comments: (515) 243-7220; rod.boshart@thegazette.com

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