By Jeb Bladine • President / Publisher • 

Jeb Bladine: The PERS question: Asked and answered

Seventeen years ago in this space, I posed a question: “How long will Oregonians accept the excessive cost of the Public Employees Retirement System, which produces benefits that far outstrip those in the private sector?”

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Jeb Bladine is president and publisher of the News-Register.

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Forever, it appears. As that reality hit home over the years, I’ve been less than charitable toward the people responsible.

In June 2002 I wrote, “It’s a damn shame. Some greedy union leaders conspired with an ignorant Legislature, a lazy media (present company included) and a general public wearing blinders. The result could destroy the quality of public services for decades.”

In 2003, Marion County Circuit Court Judge Paul Lipscomb declared that actions by the PERS board went beyond “ordinary fiscal imprudence” to become “abuse of discretion.”

Results of that abuse led to this 2006 comment, “Public services at every level of government are reeling from the greed that allowed a small group of people to highjack Oregon’s Public Employees Retirement System.”

Nearly 300 years ago Alexander Pope wrote, “Hope springs eternal.” So it was in 2011, when PERS reform was on the table. Unfortunately, as we noted, “The governor and other leaders promised to cut into excess PERS costs, but what emerged from the 2011 Legislature was inadequate and, to be blunt, insulting to Oregonians.”

The Legislature tried again in 2013, and again failed miserably. Not only were those reforms inadequate, but in 2015 the Oregon Supreme Court gutted them with a decision that caused budgets to reel at every level of government.

In 2014, PERS claimed that 2013 reforms had halved the system’s $17 billion “unfunded liability” to $8.5 billion. Many Oregonians Pollyannishly sighed in relief. “We’re moving in the right direction,” said then-PERS Executive Director Paul Cleary. “It was a good year.”

Today, following the 2015 Supreme Court folly and exacerbated by a faltering stock market, the PERS unfunded liability is estimated at $20.5 billion, more than $5,000 for every man, woman and child in the state. In response, public unions and the Democratic Party are angling for huge tax increases — those campaigns, as we noted last year, “will push political polarization to new heights.”

Sitting on the sidelines, all we can do is ask variations of that long-ago question: How long will Oregonians allow the excessive cost of PERS to drive our ship of state? How long before a true political backlash demands a generational change?

If experience teaches accurately, the answer to both questions is, too long.

Jeb Bladine can be reached at jbladine@newsregister.com or 503-687-1223.

Comments

Don Dix

Jeb writes -- Sitting on the sidelines, all we can do is ask variations of that long-ago question: How long will Oregonians allow the excessive cost of PERS to drive our ship of state? How long before a true political backlash demands a generational change?

Simple ask ... as long as Oregon is ruled by members of the PERS system of greed (public employee unions). The governor's office, legislature, and courts are elected by those unions to keep a hands off approach to any meaningful reforms.

And the remedy for a $20B deficit? Easy ...just raise taxes!

Oregon's government works ... if one is a PERS member, but little more!

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