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Pensions

Most retired public employees in Wisconsin, covered by the Wisconsin Retirement System, will get pension checks equal to last year's, the Department of Employee Trust Funds said Friday.

Most retired public employees in Wisconsin will get by without a reduction in their pensions this year even though the Wisconsin Retirement System (WRS) ended 2018 with a negative return.

But they won’t get an increase, either.

Pension payments funded solely by the main Core Fund will see no change from last year’s levels.

Retirees with some money in the smaller, optional Variable Fund will get a 10 percent cut in the portion of their payments from that fund, the state Department of Employee Trust Funds said Friday.

Considering the stock market’s decline at the end of 2018, that’s good news, said Jim Palmer, executive director of the Wisconsin Professional Police Association.

“It’s fair to say that Wisconsin’s retired public employees are relieved, indeed,” Palmer said.

“The fact that most retirees won’t see their annuity payments cut following a tumultuous year for the stock market says a great deal about the strength and stability of the state’s pension system,” he said. “Unlike many throughout the country, Wisconsin’s public pension system is fully funded and extraordinarily well-managed in a nonpartisan manner. That benefits our state’s economy and the public employees that enjoy their well-earned retirements here, as well.”

The Variable Fund change takes effect May 1.

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The median annual pension for the 211,000 retirees in the Wisconsin Retirement System is $20,758. About 75 percent of the benefits paid come from investment earnings from the WRS trust fund assets.

The State of Wisconsin Investment Board, which manages the WRS trust funds, reported preliminary returns in January of minus 3.3 percent for the Core Fund and minus 7.9 percent for the Variable Fund.

All retirees in the Wisconsin Retirement System participate in the Core Fund, which ended 2018 with $93.6 billion in assets.

About 41,000 retirees also have accounts in the Variable Fund, which had $7.1 billion in assets as of Dec. 31.

Even in down years, pension checks from the diversified Core Fund do not necessarily have to be trimmed because adjustments to the Core Fund are based on returns over the previous five years. The all-stock Variable Fund is more volatile, though, because adjustments to that fund are based solely on its return for the previous year.

Last year, retirees received a 2.4 percent increase in payments from the Core Fund while those in the Variable Fund got a 17 percent jump in that portion of their pension checks.

The Wisconsin Retirement System is the eighth-largest U.S. public pension fund and the 25th-largest public or private pension fund in the world.

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