In a recent Iowa View essay in the Des Moines Register, Josh Mandelbaum wrote that Republican proposals to move the Iowa public employee’s pension plan (IPERS) away from a defined benefit plan and toward a defined contribution plan are, “ideologically driven”. If by that term he means an ideology under which employee pensions should be financially sustainable and fair to both employees and taxpayers, then count me as ideologically driven also… and that’s a good thing.
In our political/government employment environment, defined contribution plans have mostly been significantly underfunded and unsustainable. In an actuarially sound defined benefit plan, the balance in the fund should have a surplus as often as it has a deficit. But, as we have seen in the past, when there appears to be a funding surplus, politicians increase benefits rather temporarily lowering the contributions paid by both taxpayers and employees. There is a built-in tendency for politicians to over-promise and under-fund because future benefits will not be paid out until many years later. Supporters of the current IPERS system like to say that Iowa has one of the most financially sound retirement systems in the U.S. IPERS is only about $7 billion short of the funds necessary to keep its promises! It has only about 81 cents for each dollar that it owes.
Defined contribution plans can have most of the same benefits, and potentially more, for employees. It does shift significant responsibility and risk to the employee to invest wisely and to not spend retirement money too fast during retirement. But, under a defined contribution plan the employees own the money in their retirement account, and can take it with them if they decide to change employers, and can leave it to anyone they wish after they die.
There will be a significant fiscal challenge that must be met if we were to make the change from a defined benefit to a defined contribution plan: If new employees put their retirement contributions into a defined contribution plan and don’t contribute to the existing defined benefit plan, the already-existing $7 billion of under-funding of IPERS will come due and need to be paid out over the next 50 – 60 years. In a big way, IPERS is still operating like a giant Ponzi Scheme – taking money from new investors to payoff old investors. (Illegal if done in the private sector.) It is time for us to lock-in the under-funding liability and stop making it worse. We need to put new government employees into a defined contribution plan.
I agree with the recent editorial in the Des Moines Register that we do not need the National Guard to protect our border. (See link to Register editorial below.) As you reported, the number of people caught trying to cross our border has gone down by 75% since 2000. What you didn’t report is that the number of Border Patrol Agents has increased from less than 5,000 in 1995 to about 20,000 in recent years. Additionally, just a few months ago the federal government signed a $297 million contract with the consulting firm Accenture to recruit and hire 7,500 more officers and agents for the Customs and Border Patrol agency. Surely, the cost of bringing in the National Guard, both in dollars and lives disrupted, is greater than the benefits we might achieve, if any.
Joel Kurtinitis had an opinion printed in the Des Moines Register on 3/25/18 (see link below) wherein he wrote that a fetus should be protected against abortion as soon as a heartbeat can be detected (around 6 weeks into pregnancy). He and other millennials may not have been exposed to the philosophical argument in favor of a woman’s right to choose abortion up to the time that a fetus is viable. A fetus is viable when it is able to live outside of the mother’s womb, either with or without assistance (usually around 24 week into pregnancy). A classical libertarian philosophical position is that every person has the right to use and control his or her own body as they wish as long as they don’t infringe on other people’s right to do the same. In the case of abortion, this means that neither the fetus nor anyone else, has the right to force the mother to carry the fetus inside her body. If the fetus is not viable, then the mother should be free to abort it. If the fetus is viable, then the mother should take reasonable care to not harm the fetus during delivery.
I agree with Iowa Senator Ken Rozenboom that people who voted for the Iowa Constitutional Amendment which created the Natural Resources and Outdoor Recreation Trust Fund were expressing their “feel-good” support for cleaner water and expanded recreation opportunities in Iowa. The Register’s opinion polls also make it pretty clear that a majority of Iowans are willing to pay a higher sales tax to fund these priorities.
As a long-time river canoe paddler, I want clean waters in Iowa as much as anyone. But raising the sales tax is the wrong approach to pay for the prevention and clean-up. Here are three good reasons why Iowans and the Iowa Legislature should not increase the sales tax in order to fund the Trust Fund, and why the Constitutional Amendment should be repealed:
First, much if not most of the money will go to pay for subsidies or other incentives to the polluters to encourage them to stop polluting. (Only 7% is guaranteed to go to trails. All other categories are not guaranteed to go to recreation.) Historically, we have required polluters to stop polluting our common environment or otherwise pay fines or other penalties to force them to stop polluting and to pay for cleanup of pollution they caused. Taxpayers should not be bailing out polluters. Taxpayers should especially not pay rent to farmers to temporarily “set aside” land from production in order to reduce run-off. As we’ve seen under the federal program, if the payments stop or crop prices get too high, many farmers put fragile land right back into production.
Second, if we were to increase the sales tax,the only way to stop the spending would be to repeal the Constitutional Amendment. Eventually, the need for tax money to pay for pollution prevention or clean-up will come to an end. But the Constitutional Amendment has no sunset provision so money put into the Trust Fund will be required to be spent according to the fixed formula until the amendment is repealed. We really need the flexibility of a legislative solution rather than a rigid Constitutional Amendment to solve our water pollution problem. The Constitutional Amendment should be repealed.
Third, the sales tax is a regressive tax that is disproportionately paid by relatively poorer people. Poorer people pay a larger percentage of their income in sales taxes than do higher income folks.
It is true that Iowa’s waterways are unacceptably polluted. This is a problem that we need government regulation to solve. A more just and fair way to finance the clean-up of our waters would be to put a tax on the pollutants – namely farm fertilizers and other chemicals. All such taxes collected could be put into a clean water trust fund, which a majority of Iowans support. There should also be appropriate fines to pay the cost of cleanup related to livestock sewage or other pollutants that are spilled into our waters. The basic and just principle is that polluters should pay the costs of prevention and cleanup, not general taxpayers.
Regarding improving recreational opportunities, we have already made significant progress toward providing more and better quality outdoor recreational opportunities for Iowans. We should continue on our current incremental path that has worked well rather than significantly increasing taxes.
School districts in Iowa are lobbying hard to extend the SAVE one percent sale tax that goes to fund school infrastructure. The current tax does not end until 2029! Why do school districts want to extend the tax now, when they still have tax money coming in for about 11 more years? It is because they have already spend all of their future sales tax revenues through bonding. Many metropolitan school districts already have beautiful facilities, and several central Iowa school districts just passed school bond referendums to pay for additional new facilities. We now need to get back to letting the individual school districts, and their own taxpayers, decide whether or not they need additional tax money. Contact your state legislators and urge them to oppose this future tax increase.
It is not surprising that the Iowa Automobile Dealers Association has registered its opposition to Iowa Senate Study Bill 3139 which would allow RV dealers to sell RVs on Sundays. (See Register link below.) I’m sure they think if RV sales are allowed Sundays, then car sales might be next. It would be nice if that were true. The only reason that it remains a crime to sell RVs or cars on Sundays in Iowa is because of the lobbying power of the dealers. If RV and car sales were allowed on Sundays in Iowa, it would not require any dealer to be open for business on Sundays. The decision would be left up to the owner, just like every other business. I urge Iowans to let there elected representatives know that Iowa should stop making it a crime for RV and auto dealers to be open for business on Sundays.
In Des Moines Register’s recent article about the pay gap between men and women working for the State of Iowa, the headlines and introductory paragraphs seemed to imply that there is something wrong about the fact that men working for the State get paid, on average, about $5,300 more than women. (See link below.) The proper question that needs to be asked and answered is: Are men and women with substantially the same job and qualifications paid differently or treated differently?
The full article was fairly balanced. Toward the end of the fairly lengthy article the Register reported: “A 2006 study at the University of Iowa found that almost all faculty pay variations were the result of known factors that were expected to affect salary, including the discipline taught, seniority, tenure status and faculty rank.” “When those factors were taken into account, ‘there were no overall statistically significant gender- or minority-status based salary differences,’ Jeneane Beck, a University of Iowa spokeswoman, said.” Also further down in the article the Register quoted Iowa State University economist, Dave Swensen, saying, “It remains that large fractions of administrative support employment are female, which do earn substantially less than management, technical and other professional occupations,”
So, although there may or may not be some isolated problems, overall there appears to be no overall problem with the pay difference that was reported.