Public employees across the country are under siege. Retirement security — from firefighters to police officers to teachers, public employees rely on their pensions to provide a secure retirement. Here in Wisconsin, we are not immune to those attacks. State Senator Stroebel has proposed legislation that is completely unnecessary and irresponsible.

The Wisconsin Retirement System (WRS) is well-funded, well-managed, and serves as a model for the rest of the country. At 100% funded, the fund provides public pensioners with an average of $23,430 per year from WRS.  While other states deferred or skipped payments over the years, causing large unfunded liabilities, Wisconsin did not and our system continues to provide a dignified retirement to public employees across Wisconsin.

I’ve been a firefighter for 28 years in Appleton. Over the years I’ve worked my way through the ranks and I’m now a Captain on our department. Becoming a firefighter was always a dream of mine. I’m proud of the work we do in Appleton to protect and serve our community.

State Senator Stroebel has proposed two pieces of legislation that are completely unnecessary. The first would change how pension benefits are calculated and the second would raise the retirement age from 50 to 52 for protective occupations and 55 to 60 for teachers and other public employees. There’s no need for these changes due to the strength of WRS. Instead, these bills do two things: hurt public employees and potentially hurt our local economies.

Being a firefighter is a physically demanding and emotionally challenging job. Over the years, members of my department have been injured and at the end of their careers, they struggle to perform the everyday duties that the job entails. Requiring firefighters to work longer not only puts us in danger, but the very people we are trying to help. Additionally, by raising the retirement age, departments across the state will have a hard time retaining and attracting top-notch talent in the future.

During their retirement, public employees strongly support their local economies. According to the National Institute on Retirement Security, pension benefits paid to retired public employees in Wisconsin have a direct economic impact to the tune of $2.9 billion a year. Additionally, for every $1.00 Wisconsin taxpayers contribute to pensions, that dollar supports $7.97 in total output in the state. That means real jobs and real local economic development. State Senator Stroebel’s bills threaten that output and our local economies.

Public employees are the backbone of our state. We’re all around you. We coach your kids’ baseball teams, stand behind you in the grocery store, and sit beside you in church; we’re your neighbors, friends, and family members. Changes to our retirement system could have disastrous effects on our ability to retire with security and dignity and threaten our local economies.

I urge the state legislature to ignore this attempt at changing WRS. It’s unnecessary and Wisconsin can, quite honestly, do better for those who have spent their working years supporting all Wisconsin’s citizens.