Keep up with threats to Iowa's public pension funds

Republican lawmakers are considering big changes to the Iowa Public Employees’ Retirement System (IPERS). The Reason Foundation, a libertarian think tank funded through the Koch brothers network, has been studying the matter at the invitation of GOP State Senator Charles Schneider. That group recommends converting IPERS from a defined-benefit plan (with guaranteed payments for public employees) to a defined-contribution plan like a 401(k). Under that scenario, some 350,000 IPERS members would have to pay investment fees and could receive lower returns when they retire.

Similar changes could affect Iowans who pay into the Municipal Fire & Police Retirement System, Peace Officers’ Retirement System, or Judicial Retirement System.

Democratic lawmakers and staff have created a new e-mail list for Iowans wanting to stay informed about threats to public pension funds. This list will function much like the Iowa Statehouse Progressive Network, created at the beginning of this year’s legislative session, but with updates and action alerts related to state retirement issues.

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Louisa Dykstra for Des Moines School Board

Republican policies on education funding and working conditions for teachers have inspired many newly-engaged Iowa activists to run in tomorrow’s school board elections.

School board members don’t control the budget, but they decide what programs to cut or spare when resources are scarce. They influence contract negotiations, so can mitigate the harm Iowa’s new collective bargaining law will do to educators. Winning non-partisan, local races can also help build the Democratic bench, as many successful candidates for the Iowa House and Senate previously served on a school board.

Turnout for school board elections is typically low in the absence of some hot-button local issue, like this year’s Iowa City school bond proposal. A handful of voters may determine the outcome. Rob Barron won his at-large seat on the Des Moines School Board by just 28 votes in 2013.

Three progressives are seeking the two at-large seats on the Des Moines board this year: the incumbent Barron and first-time candidates Louisa Dykstra and Kyrstin Delagardelle Shelley.

I’m encouraging my friends in the Des Moines district to cast one of their votes for Dykstra.

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Why did Branstad and Reynolds request transition funds they didn't need?

Some surprising news arrived in the mail recently. In response to one of my records requests, Governor Kim Reynolds’ legal counsel Colin Smith informed me that “zero dollars” of a $150,000 appropriation for gubernatorial transition expenses “have been spent and there are no plans to spend any of that appropriated money.” I soon learned that the Department of Management had ordered a transfer of up to $40,000 in unspent Department of Revenue funds from the last fiscal year “to the Governor’s/Lt. Governor’s General Office to cover additional expenses associated with the gubernatorial transition.”

A Des Moines Register headline put a favorable spin on the story: “Reynolds pares back spending on office transition from lieutenant governor.” However, neither the governor’s office nor Republican lawmakers ever released documents showing how costs associated with the step up for Reynolds could have reached $150,000.

Currently available information raises questions about whether Branstad/Reynolds officials ever expected to spend that money, or whether they belatedly requested the fiscal year 2018 appropriation with a different political purpose in mind.

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Alternate Process. Alternate Facts. Alternate Democracy.

Tyler Higgs is an activist, concerned constituent, and candidate for school board in Waukee. Click here for background on the Iowa Public Employees’ Retirement System (IPERS) and here for more on the conservative group a GOP senator brought in to “study” the pension fund. -promoted by desmoinesdem

It was standing room only on July 25 in the cramped Senate hearing room, where State Senator Charles Schneider of West Des Moines (Senate district 22) bucked Iowa law to schedule a last-minute mock hearing to discuss the fate of Iowa’s teachers and public employees. Will they have a respectable hard-earned retirement, or will they subsist on cat food?

You would think a question of this importance would be discussed in a non-partisan committee meeting, open to input — pro and con — from the public. Not in this scenario.

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Six hints Iowa Senate Republicans didn't fire Kirsten Anderson over work product

Iowa taxpayers are on the hook for $2.2 million dollars after former Senate Republican communications director Kirsten Anderson won a huge sexual harassment lawsuit last week.

If Senate Republican leaders had any sense of accountability, they would resign, or at least offer to raise money to cover the cost of the verdict, so the general fund doesn’t take another hit while the state budget is in terrible shape.

But Majority Leader Bill Dix refuses to admit any wrongdoing by his colleagues or his staff. He is sticking to his story: “Kirsten Anderson was terminated for her work product and for no other reason.” Dix’s top aide Ed Failor, Jr. has been saying the same thing for years.

The jury didn’t buy the official line, and you shouldn’t either.

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Let's not forget who made Iowa's new medical cannabis law so useless

Iowa’s new medical cannabis law goes into effect on July 1, but “obtaining the medicine will be difficult and manufacturers said it’s unclear if the state’s effort will be viable,” Linley Sanders reported for the Associated Press this week. Her story illuminated a few reasons the law won’t help most of the people who could potentially benefit from access to cannabis derivatives.

Iowa lawmakers closed out the session with all-nighter so as not to adjourn without doing something on this issue. The previous medical cannabis law, adopted in similar last-minute fashion three years earlier, was due to expire this summer. Even for people with seizure disorders, the only conditions for which cannabis oil was allowed, the old law was too limited and unworkable.

As the new law’s defects become more obvious, we need to remember that most state legislators favored a better alternative. House Republicans thwarted their efforts.

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