Retirement Security: Democratic Candidates Hold the Answers

A retirement crisis is unfolding in Wisconsin. Before long, four out of ten of residents will be in their “golden years.” Many will have inadequate financial resources in retirement. According to AARP, 41% of Wisconsin’s private sector employees (about 928,000 people) work for employers that do not offer any kind of retirement plan. This, along with decades of low-paying jobs, rising health care costs, and the inability of average workers to save on their own, has created this crisis.

POWRS (Protect Our Wisconsin Retirement Security) does not endorse any candidate, but we think Wisconsin voters need to know where the 2018 gubernatorial candidates stand on this issue. Is their next governor prepared to address the problem? To find out, POWRS surveyed the candidates. The survey (full results at requested the candidates’ views on the Wisconsin Retirement System (WRS), the state’s public employee retirement program, as well as their support for establishing a similar program for private sector businesses and employees.

All responding Democratic candidates expressed enthusiastic support for both protecting the WRS and creating a similar program for the private sector (Michelle Dolan, Tony Evers, Matt Flynn, Andy Gronik, Mike McCabe, Mahlon Mitchell, Kelda Roys, Kathleen Vinehout, and Dana Wachs). They cited several reasons: the WRS is one of the best public employee retirement plans in the nation; it is 100% funded; it provides good benefits; it costs taxpayers very little. Republican incumbent Scott Walker did not respond to the survey, but his record would indicates he does not agree.

Historically, Republicans favor replacing reliable defined benefit pensions with unstable defined contribution savings accounts commonly called IRAs or 401(k)s. They also advocate converting Social Security to private accounts and Medicare to fixed amount vouchers. At the same time, they have fought meaningful oversight of the financial industry and recently repealed the “fiduciary rule” for investment advisers which required investment salespeople to be honest with their customers.

POWRS believes the WRS should be a model for a secure retirement program for all Wisconsin workers. In fact, legislation has been introduced by Senator Dave Hansen and Representative Eric Genrich to investigate this possibility. Governor Walker and the Republican controlled legislature not only ignored their proposal, they have repeatedly attempted to weaken, politicize, and privatize the WRS. Their efforts include converting WRS to a 401(k) style program and reducing benefits for public employees. None of these changes would save taxpayers money; all of them would undermine the stability of the entire program.

It is not difficult to predict the consequences of continuing to ignore this pending retirement crisis. Failure to act will severely impact Wisconsin’s economy and strain public safety net programs. POWRS believes citizens need to be informed, and voters need to cast their ballots accordingly.

POWRS is a statewide group of retired citizens working to protect WRS and to enhance retirement security for all Americans.