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Governor: police and firefighters should pay into pensions

Monday, August 6, 2012

Iowa's 4,000 professional local fire and police officers should contribute 40 percent of the funding for their pensions -- a move that would have increased their obligation to the retirement pool 17 to 29 percent in recent years, Gov. Terry Branstad said in an exclusive interview.

Local government would pick up the other 60 percent that goes into the pension fund, Branstad said.

Splitting the costs along those lines would save local governments millions of dollars and put the public safety employees' retirement packages in line with retirement programs other public employees have, according to the governor.

Employees pay into the system but at a fixed rate of 9.4 percent of their wages. That amounted to 31 percent of the pension fund's total costs in fiscal 2011, the last year for which data is available. The share was 34 percent in fiscal 2010.

Local cities must cover the rest under Iowa law, regardless of how much is needed, to make the system strong enough financially so that it can cover pensions paid to the 4,000 fire and police officers in Iowa who have retired.

The split Gov. Branstad suggested hits hot button topics: taxes, reducing government spending, and a growing move in several states to trim public employee benefits."Obviously, we don't agree with it," Rick Scofield, a retired Cedar Rapids fire captain and president of the Iowa Professional Firefighters organization, said.

But Branstad said he is siding with local government on this matter.

"We're hearing a lot from municipal governments: this is not fair, that this

is creating some real financial burden," he said in the interview, which also covered other topics. "And you can talk to the city of Cedar Rapids or Des Moines. I've heard from a number of those mayors and from city managers: this is a real significant financial burden."

Any change would have to be addressed in state law, which establishes the rate that firefighters and police pay into system and what cities pay. That law prohibits cities from paying less than 17 percent of the employees' pay. The cities' rate now is 26.12 percent of an employee's paycheck, said Terry Slattery, executive director of the Municipal Fire and Police Retirement System of Iowa, which administers the pension program.

The Municipal Fire and Police Retirement System's board of directors sets the cities' rates annually, based on actuarial analyses of the pension plan's pay-out obligations. Cities covered 67 percent of the pension fund's fiscal 2011 total costs, which included pay-outs and administration. That was up from 62 percent the previous year, the fund's budget figures show.

The rest was covered by a $1.5 million state appropriation in fiscal 2011, down from a little less than $2.6 million the previous year. That appropriation was dropped to $750,000 in fiscal 2012 and eliminated this fiscal year, which began July 1.

Des Moines' contribution to police and fire pensions is expected to increase 47 percent from fiscal 2009 to fiscal 2013 if the city pays the $11.9 million it anticipates owing this year, financial officials there said. The city would owe an estimated $9.7 million this year if were required to pay only 60 percent of the pension fund's anticipated costs, city finance director,Scott Sanders said. That would leave the city's 280 firefighters and 455 police who pay into the pension pool owing the remaining $2.2 million, or an average of almost $3,000 per employee.

Sanders is a member of the Municipal Fire and Police Retirement System of Iowa's board of directors.

Cedar Rapids budget officials anticipate the city paying $6 million this fiscal year, up 57 percent from what was paid five years earlier in fiscal 2009. As recently as fiscal 2011, the last year for which the city has a final figure, Cedar Rapids' contribution had been 19 percent less than it had been five years earlier in 2007, city records show.

The Iowa League of Cities is pushing for the 60/40 split in fire and police retirement contributions that employees in IPERS system pay.

Scofield said cities are getting a good deal with the current system because they do not have to pay unemployment insurance -- the system handles that -- and they save on Social Security taxes that are not required for firefighters.

Forty-nine Iowa cities contribute to the Municipal Fire and Police Retirement System of Iowa. Firefighters and police officers with more than four years of service are entitled to a portion of their final pay, with the percentage growing to 66 percent if they worked for 22 years.

He hasn't even finished the second year of this term as governor but the political field is full of people wondering about getting re-elected. And while he said it's too early to know about another term as governor, Terry Branstad had two things to say about whether or not he'd want to seek a sixth term.

One, that he doesn't expect to decide until 2014, the next election year. And, two, if he doesn't run, he thinks Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds could do the job. Iowa never has elected a female governor.

"I feel that she's been a great partner and is more than prepared to handle this job if I decide not to," Branstad said.

Author Robert Maharry is a junior Journalism and political science student at the University of Iowa, and a former Pilot-Tribune intern from Alta. Lyle Muller directs the Iowa Center for Public Affairs Journalism.

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yada,yada,yada the gov is merely using this as aploy for trying to increase his popularity with voters!! ask him how much he has paid in over the last several years out of his 2,(yes 2), state incomes.

-- Posted by dooney on Mon, Aug 6, 2012, at 3:50 PM

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