Iowa governor: "I'm not making any changes" to IPERS

Governor Kim Reynolds is not planning any changes for Iowa’s main public pension system, she told Iowa reporters today.

Reynolds will soon appoint a successor to Donna Mueller, the longtime CEO of Iowa Public Employees’ Retirement System (IPERS). During the Associated Press legislative seminar at the capitol on January 7, Bleeding Heartland asked the governor what qualities she’ll be looking for in that hire and whether she would rule out changes such as moving away from a defined-benefit system for future IPERS members.

“No, I’m not interested in that. I’m not making any changes to IPERS at this time,” Reynolds said. Her communications director Pat Garrett later emailed reporters to say the governor “wants me to make clear to you all she meant to say, she doesn’t plan to make any changes at all. ” (emphasis in original)

A number of states have moved from defined-benefit public pension programs to defined contribution or 401(k)-like programs in recent years. Mueller’s impending retirement after seventeen years running IPERS has increased anxiety among some current and former public workers that Republicans may try to privatize or restructure the program. The pension system has more than 340,000 members, about a third of them retirees.

The state is conducting a national search for the CEO position and accepting applications through January 13.

Reynolds said today her staff will be working with the IPERS board, which will review the submissions and refer a few names to the governor. Iowa law does not require IPERS representatives to recommend finalists for the job, nor does it compel the governor to select a candidate suggested by the board.

During the 2018 election campaign, Reynolds repeatedly promised not to alter the structure of IPERS after her Democratic challenger Fred Hubbell warned Republicans would take the current program away from future hires. In an October 2018 guest commentary for the Des Moines Register, the governor assured state and local government employees, “Under my watch, your IPERS is safe. It will not change; it will be protected; and you will have the retirement you were promised. Period.” That column did not specifically pledge to preserve a defined-benefit pension for future hires, however.

  • This is good news

    This is good news, and it’s journalists like Laura that have kept IPERS safe. Neighboring states like Illinois and South Dakota are good examples – Illinois shows what happens when state retirement systems are poorly managed and poorly funded, and South Dakota is one of the best in the nation. IPERS is competitive and well run and doesn’t need to be tinkered with and it could still be better funded. I once thought that allowing legislators and local elected officials to buy into IPERS was a bad idea, but I think it’s had the benefit of encouraging legislators to pay attention to it.

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