AFSCME Council 11 Green SheetThe Wisconsin Retirement System and Pensions
The Wisconsin Retirement System (WRS) is nationally recognized for the service itprovides 557,000 (active and retired) members and their families, who live andwork in our communities. The WRS was established decades ago to recognize thecontributions of public employees and to provide them with some security inretirement.Workers covered under the WRS include teachers, judges, corrections officers,university professors, child welfare workers, governors, blue collar workers,administrators, public health nurses, administrative support staff, buildinginspectors, librarians, police officers and countless more. Most public sectorworkers and retirees in Wisconsin are members of the WRS, and represent anestimated 12% of the Wisconsin adult population. The authors of WRS declared that the purpose of the pension system is to “aidpublic employees protecting themselves and their beneficiaries against the financialhardships of old age, disability, death, illness and accident, thereby promotingeconomy and efficiency in public service facilitating the attraction and retention of competent employees, by enhancing employee morale, by providing for thehumane departure from service of employees no longer able to perform their dutieseffectively, by establishing equitable benefit standards through public employment,by achieving administrative expense savings and by facilitating transfer betweenpublic employers.” The WRS provides economic security to public employees and their families, and isan important contributor to our state’s economy. According to the National Instituteon Retirement Security, in 2006, WRS beneficiaries spent some $4.5 billion,accounted for over 33,000 jobs that paid $1.7 billion in wages and salaries and over$730 million in federal, state and local taxes. The WRS has the advantage of having an economy of scale that enables it to offermodest pension benefits to its participants. This is one of its greatest strengths.Indeed, the WRS has some $60 billion in assets, well-managed by professionalinvestment staff employed by the State of Wisconsin Investment Board (SWIB).Roughly two-thirds of the more than $3.5 billion in WRS pensions paid each yearcomes from investment returns, not taxpayer dollars. The pensions enjoyed bypublic sector workers are funded largely from the smart investment returns madeby highly regarded in-house SWIB staff, who are accountable to the participantswho are represented by a board of directors.Recently, the Pew Center on the States, a national non-profit research organization,gave our state high marks for the WRS. According to Pew, Wisconsin is one of onlyfour states that has fully funded its pension system. The Pew report calls the WRS anational leader for managing its long term pension liabilities and its unique design.