A group of Republican lawmakers is proposing changes to how retirement payments for public workers in Wisconsin are calculated.
But it’s unclear whether the leaders of the Assembly and Senate are behind the measure.
Under the bill, which was introduced Friday, a participant’s Wisconsin Retirement System annuity would be calculated using the worker’s five highest annual earnings periods to come up with a figure known as “final average earnings” — rather than the three highest annual earnings periods used under current law.
An annuity is calculated based on a participant’s final average earnings, the participant’s number of years of work and a percentage multiplier.
The legislation says the change would take effect on the first day of the 60th month — or about five years — after the law is published, and applies to participants who terminate their WRS-covered employment on or after the first day of that 60th month beginning after publication.
The bill’s lead sponsor, Rep. Duey Stroebel, R-Saukville, was not available for an interview Monday, his staffer said.
The Wisconsin Education Association Council slammed the measure.
“This is a trap that is totally unfair to teachers who have worked their entire careers based on one set of rules, only to have the rug pulled out from under them,” said WEAC spokeswoman Christina Brey.
And Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca, D-Kenosha, questioned the reasons for the proposed changes, saying Wisconsin is one of the few fully funded retirement systems in the country.
“I’d like to know what his objectives are,” Barca said of Stroebel.
The bill would not change a second way in which annuities may be calculated, according to an analysis of the legislation by the nonpartisan Legislative Reference Bureau.
That method looks at the amount of a money purchase annuity, which is calculated using a worker’s accumulated required and additional contributions, the reference bureau said.
The Department of Employee Trust Funds is required to pay annuities based on whichever of those methods generates the higher annuity amount.
Brey said the proposal would “save little money for taxpayers,” because the money purchase option could still be used.
And she added that it undermines the concept of a defined-benefit pension.
“We need to preserve a system that works,” Brey said.
The bill, AB 471, has been referred to the Joint Survey Committee on Retirement Systems, according to the state Legislature’s website.
But it does not sound like the bill will become law in the near future.
“It’s not going to happen this session,” said Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, referring to the current two-year legislative session. “As we look at ways to keep our system solvent in the long run, this is what some people have suggested.”
Even if the Assembly were to take it up in the future, it faces an uncertain fate in the Senate. The legislation does not list any Senate sponsors.
Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, said, “This bill was introduced fairly recently, so many senators have not had a chance to review it. We will likely wait and see what happens to it in the Assembly and then discuss as a caucus whether or not we want to take it up.”
Tom Evenson, spokesman for Gov. Scott Walker, said the governor will evaluate the bill if it gets to his desk.
Walker triggered a storm of controversy shortly after he took office in 2011, when he unveiled a plan to sharply curtail collective bargaining for public workers in Wisconsin.
Known as Act 10, the law passed the Republican-controlled Legislature in March 2011 after tens of thousands of protesters flooded the Capitol for days on end, and all 14 Democratic senators in office at the time left the state for Illinois in an attempt to prevent its passage.
The measure made sweeping changes to collective bargaining for most public unions.