DES MOINES — An Iowa House hearing on IPERS on Tuesday provided a double shot of good news for the public employee retirement system’s 361,400 members.
First, the 66-year-old program is in great shape, with a portfolio market value of more than $32 billion, which earned a return on investment of 7.9 percent last year.
The ratio of assets to liabilities is 82.4 percent, which is an improvement of $153 million from the previous year, and IPERS has a deferred investment gain of $487 million, according to CEO Donna Mueller, who gave an annual update to the Iowa House State Government Committee.
The other good news was no news at all, according to Chairman Bobby Kaufmann, R-Wilton, who said there will be no changes to IPERS during this two-year General Assembly.
“It’s not new. It’s not news,” he told the committee and a hearing room full of lobbyists. “There’s not going to be any changes to IPERS this year or next year. That includes amendments, that includes budgets, that includes standings. Very simply and unequivocally, there’s not going to be changes.”
Kaufmann has made that point before, but Rep. Mary Mascher of Iowa City, the committee’s ranking Democrat, said Kaufmann and his fellow Republicans have a trust problem.
“I appreciate the fact that you are adamant about making no changes,” said Mascher, an ex officio member of the IPERS board.
Democrats and IPERS members aren’t sure they can trust Republicans after seeing what happened when the majority party said they planned only to “tweak” Chapter 20, the state public employee collective bargaining law.
“As a result of that and it being gutted, I think there were many members who were extremely concerned whether they could trust the word of people who tell them there are going to be no changes,” Mascher said.
However, she went on to say that at the Statehouse “our word is our bond. … I hope we can trust this word.”
Charlie Wishman of the Iowa Federation of Labor, AFL-CIO, agreed that public employees, once bitten, are twice shy about trusting Republicans when it comes to their benefits.
“It was a really great message to hear from Iowa House Republicans that they are not interested in making any changes in IPERS,” he said. “Quite frankly, after the last two years, a lot of public employees and union members have grown to be distrustful of the current majority. We will be vigilant.”
Wishman is concerned some Senate Republicans don’t share Kaufmann’s commitment to preserving IPERS.
“No bill becomes law without coming through the Iowa House,” Kaufmann said, reiterating his pledge to prevent changes.
In stating his position, Kaufmann accused specific groups of “inventing demons.”
“The scare tactics that have been used — I promised my comms director I wouldn’t curse, so I’ll abbreviate and say it’s BS,” he said. “Scare for political gain stops today. Going forward, any of these groups — AFSCME, AFL-CIO, ISEA, Progress Iowa, all these groups that are pushing out this crap — after today, what you are doing will be completely deceitful. … I’m going to publicly call you a liar.”
Progress Iowa responded that it won’t be “bullied” by Kaufmann because “retirement security is too important for us to stay silent.”
Kaufmann is “treating Iowans as if we’re fools,” Executive Director Matt Sinovic said.
“We remember when he promised not to vote for a Wisconsin-style bill to gut workers’ rights. Then he ended up supporting the bill to gut collective bargaining two years ago,” he said, accusing Kaufmann of trying to “grandstand and deceive.”
That wasn’t his intent, Kaufmann said later, “but I probably shouldn’t get so worked up.”
A copy of the IPERS presentation will be posted at ipers.org/, a spokesperson said.