Kaufmann: ‘Zero, nada, zilch’ support for changes to state employee retirement rules in 2019 session

Rep. Bobby Kaufmann, a Wilton Republican who will chair the State Government committee, made it clear that there will be no changes to the Iowa Public Employees Retirement System despite concern that there would be.


Nick Rohlman

Rep. Bobby Kaufmann, R-Wilton, speaks during the Eastern Iowa Legislator Forum at the Iowa City Public Library on Wednesday, Dec. 5, 2018. The event, hosted by The Daily Iowan Ethics and Politics Initiative and Iowa Watch, featured a panel of five eastern Iowa state legislators.

Elianna Novitch, Politics Reporter

Rep. Bobby Kaufmann, R-Wilton, assured constituents and others in attendance during a forum Wednesday night that “there will be zero IPERs bills, period” in the upcoming legislative session.

IPERS — the Iowa Public Employees Retirement System — became a hot topic during the 2018 campaign because of speculation about changes to the program. The system is a retirement plan for state employees, providing 350,000 members with monthly pensions.

Full stream of legislative forum

Kaufmann will serve as the chair of the State Government Committee in the 2019 legislative session who would oversee any bills that would address IPERS. He joined four other eastern Iowa legislators in a forum hosted by The Daily Iowan and IowaWatch.

“There will be zero IPERS bills, period. End of story. End of discussion. No tweaks, no changes,” Kaufmann said. “I’m not even going to entertain changing the punctuation marks in the IPERS language.”

When dismissing notions that there would be changes made to IPERS, Kaufmann noted a controversial bill introduced by Sen. Brad Zaun, R-Urbandale, in 2017 that would have required funds for state employees hired after July 1, 2019, to be diverted to a contribution-based retirement program. The bill, which Kaufmann called “really stupid,” never advanced.

He said there were no other conversations happening with members of his caucus about changes to IPERS.

“I have spoken to all 53 members of my caucus in the House [and] zero — not one, two, or five — zero, nada, zilch, none have any appetite for this whatsoever,” Kaufmann said.

On the campaign trail, Gov. Kim Reynolds told the Des Moines Register, “We will absolutely honor the commitments that have been made,” drawing ire from Democrats who say she did not explicitly say future enrollees would benefit. She published an op-ed in the Register soon after affirming she wanted to maintain a sustainable IPERS program.

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At the forum, other eastern Iowa legislators in attendance included Sen. Joe Bolkcom, D-Iowa City; Reps. Dave Jacoby, D-Coralville; Mary Mascher, D-Iowa City; and Amy Nielsen, D-North Liberty.

Legislators also weighed in on the future of education funding for both K-12 and higher education.

While there was a 1 percent increase for K-12 education funding this past year, resulting in more than $40 million for the K-12 system, Iowa State University and the University of Iowa split $10.9 million in cuts.

Bolkcom predicted Iowa’s budget will be tight for the upcoming year and place continued strain on the three public universities governed by the state Board of Regents.

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“I think Republicans are going to continue to have a fairly austere position on [higher-education funding],” Bolkcom said. “K-12 might be a slightly different story if we get a 1 to 2 percent increase. I think we’re going to be in another really tight year where people in public education are going to be probably pretty unhappy with the results of this upcoming session.”

Mascher said there is money in the budget for education, but it comes down to what legislators prioritize.

“… If you want to look at how do we move forward with funding education, whether it’s K-12, early childhood, community college, or the regents, it’s a matter of who’s in charge and whether they are willing to put the dollars into those areas,” Mascher said.

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Kaufmann said he’ll advocate for more funding to go to Iowa’s state universities. A forum attendee asked if he would favor earmarking money collected from sports betting, if legalized, for K-12 or higher-education appropriations. He said he wouldn’t make promises, but he would be open to making a recommendation for it.

The legislators also discussed issues they could see coming up in the 2019 session, including expanding Iowa’s medical-cannabis program, restoring voting rights for felons, expanding sports betting, and implementing a system for children’s mental-health care.