Wisconsin retirees keying in on Sanders bill

May 26, 2017

ENDEAVOR – Wisconsin retirees are asking their representatives to either get behind reintroduced legislation that would protect their pensions -- or find another solution.

The Keep Our Pension Promises Act – reintroduced this month by Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and Rep. Marcy Kaptur, D-Ohio – is right now the only plan in bill form that would address the growing pension crisis in the U.S., reported Protect Pensions leader Bernie Anderson of Milwaukee. Anderson was one of about 80 attendees at a Protect Pensions meeting held May 13 in Endeavor.

“We’re asking them if they don’t like it, come up with something else themselves,” Anderson said of the legislation, which would prevent multiemployer plans -- ones deemed to be struggling -- from slashing benefits for retirees.

Keep Our Pension Promises would establish a “legacy fund” for the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation that would be funded by closing tax loopholes currently used by the “super rich,” Anderson said.

Some very wealthy people, for example, use Individual Retirement Accounts (IRAs) as a “vehicle” to keep as much as $250 million or more from being taxed.

“What the Sanders bill does,” Anderson said, “is cap it so those people would have to pay taxes on that money over $5 million,” taxes that would be used to fix struggling multiemployer pension funds.

“It would bring in approximately $32 billion in 10 years, and that’s about how far behind the pensions are,” Anderson said. “It would fix the whole system -- not just Central States (Pension Fund).”

Central States was the first pension fund to attempt slashing pensions by up to 70 percent, using the Kline-Miller Multiemployer Pension Reform Act of 2014, which did away with cutback protections in ERISA (Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974).

About 25,000 retirees in Wisconsin face significant cuts to their Central States pensions unless a solution is found.

More broadly, the pensions of millions of Americans are at stake, Protect Pensions groups say, due to hundreds of struggling funds that might use MPRA to slash pensions.

“We’re not asking for a bailout. We’re asking for a solution,” said Bob Brockway, who leads the Endeavor chapter of Protect Pensions, which meets on the second Saturday of each month at the Endeavor/Moundville fire station.

“Hundreds of pension funds are in dire need of help. Can you imagine if 20 or 30 million people lose their pensions?”

Anderson reported progress made in the form of support from House Speaker Paul Ryan, Sen. Tammy Baldwin and Sen. Ron Johnson, among others.

Baldwin is a co-sponsor of the Sanders bill.

About six weeks ago, Protect Pensions leaders, including Anderson, had a 45-minute conference call with White House staff – two special assistants to President Donald Trump, on taxes and pensions – which also has retirees feeling optimistic.

“They’re very interested in our plight,” Anderson said of the phone call. “They said a couple of times that they can hear and feel the emotion in our voices.

“Where it leads, we don’t know. We’re talking about Trump here,” Anderson continued. “He’s definitely a wild card.”

Protect Pensions leaders are reaching out to many in the Trump administration for help, since “a lot of people voted for him because of what he talked about with (protecting) the American worker,” Anderson said.

“So we’d like to ask the president, how does he plan to fix the multiemployer pension plans?”

Keep Our Pension Promises Act, Brockway said, is a “very good thing” because it “puts the language back to where it should be: to protect our pensions.”

“This bill will help millions of people, and that’s what everybody’s depending on,” he said.

“I really feel like more people will get on board with this.”