FILE - In this Dec. 6, 2016 file photo, Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad speaks to members of the media in the lobby of Trump Tower in New York. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, File)

Guest opinion: Iowa Republicans employ Koch-funded group to attack retirement security

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The Iowa Public Employees’ Retirement System is at risk from Republican shenanigans.

Once again, Republicans in the Legislature are inviting an out-of-state attack on the economic security of Iowa families.

Their target is IPERS, 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 ensuring 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 so-called 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 legislators’ decision to outsource their review to a highly questionable 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 just the latest unwarranted and baseless attack against working families by Iowa Republicans. We saw it on collective bargaining, in which backroom deals produced legislation that gutted workers’ rights at the bargaining table. We also saw it on workers’ compensation. No noteworthy problems were identified that needed to be changed, no calls were made for change by voters during the 2016 election campaign; nonetheless, backroom deals turned the systems upside down when the political levers were in place for it to happen.

We have also 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 fields affected were formed to study the state’s system to determine the best path forward. Instead, then-Gov. Terry Branstad and Republican legislators swiftly scrapped a system and sent it to the highest bidders. We now have a complete collapse with thousands of Iowans potentially left uninsured.

None of these laws and programs needed 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 next target, and Republicans are using the out-of-state Koch-funded group to tilt the scales in favor of policies they want to pursue. A look at Reason Founation’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 401k plans that pose significantly more risk to families depending on secure retirement. This is a clear message from the handbook. In addition, Reason Foundation has received more than $3.5 million from one notable critic of public pensions, John Arnold. Add to this the clear preference of new Gov. Kim Reynolds for a look at a 401k-style plan, and it will not be surprising when Reason Foundation produces a “study” recommending significant changes in the structure of IPERS to the detriment of employees either now, in the future, or both.

It’s time for the Legislature to stop the partisan attacks on Iowans and provide honest scrutiny of who is advising our policymakers. The Reason Foundation should not be consulted by the state, let alone be empowered as it is 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, executive director of Progress Iowa

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