Bills would force public workers to wait longer to retire, change payout

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MADISON -- Republican lawmakers in Madison are considering raising the minimum retirement age for public workers and changing their payouts, leading to objections from unions.

"It`s clear that this is something that`s really grabbed (officers') attention," said Jim Palmer, executive director of the Wisconsin Professional Police Association. "Both of these bills represent solutions to problems that simply don't exist."

Sen. Duey Stroebel, R-Saukville, is seeking to cut the size of some public employees' pension payouts by changing how their benefits are calculated.

Instead of using an average of the three highest-earning years, one of Stroebel's bills would use the five top-earning years. The change would make an employee's payout more representative of their career earnings, Stroebel said.

Another bill would increase the minimum retirement age for most public employees from 55 to 57. Police and firefighters, who can currently retire at age 50, would have to wait until 52.

"So you`re working 30 years. You`re retired for 30 years. In the private sector, we certainly don`t see that at all," Stroebel said.

Democratic lawmakers and union leaders see it as another attack on workers.

"In Wisconsin, it always seems it can get worse," said Sen. Chris Larson, D-Milwaukee.

Critics question the need for these changes because the Wisconsin Retirement System is solvent.

"It`s funded very well, and I don`t think we should be messing with it," Larson said.

Stroebel's retirement age proposal wouldn't change the so-called normal retirement age, when workers are eligible for full benefits. It also wouldn't impact anyone age 40 or above right now.

Stroebel said the bills would save the state money -- although a study hasn't been done to determine how much.

"You need to stay ahead of the curve on that, so we can keep it a good system, a sound system, and an affordable system," Stroebel said.

This legislation wouldn't apply to 7,200 City of Milwaukee employees and 3,800 other workers at Milwaukee County because they have their own retirement system.

It would, however, impact teachers at Milwaukee Public Schools, who are part of the Wisconsin Retirement System.

Stroebel is now looking for co-sponsors for both bills, which failed last session.

7 comments

  • Opinion8d

    “Both of these bills represent solutions to problems that simply don`t exist,” Palmer said. – and that is the difference between business and government. In business, if you don’t plan for the future, you go out of business when it bites you in the butt. Govt on the other hand simply fleeces the taxpayers by raising taxes. Go back to Tom Ament and the county government retirement plan….it wasn’t a problem when they passed it -just as people started to retire and it needed to be funded!!! Who paid for that again???? TAXPAYERS!!! I fully support the police (and first responders/teachers, etc), but retiring at 50 now a days with full benefits is just too costly. This isn’t going to impact those who are retiring in the next 10 years….just a go forward from some point.

    • Brewskie

      The WRS is not a guaranteed pension system. The monthly payment varies annually depending on market performance: some years are better than others. This contrasts sharply with a guaranteed system, which obligates a promised payment, even if the fund is underfunded (as say the result of market factors), at the expense of the taxpayers.

      This is one reason the WRS is fully funded and is considered the best public pension system in the country: it’s somewhat more similar (though not 100%) to a 401k.

      Monthly payments are dependent on a variety of factors, including: years of service, highest 3 years of income, and others.

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  • Gary

    Why don’t they replace pensions with 401k plans and let the employee decide when they want to retire just like everyone in the private sector

    • Brewskie

      Some state employees would like more flexibility with the retirement system. That said, the WRS bears some semblance to a 401k, in contrast to guaranteed pension systems, in that retirees’ monthly payments change yearly depending on market performance.

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