Legislators tasting the PERS porridge
Oregon’s 2013 legislative session will be defined by what it decides on proposals to reform the Public Employees Retirement System. Three levels of transformation are on the table – think of them as the baby bear, mama bear and papa bear of PERS reform – and our Goldilocks Legislature is just now sampling the porridge.
Here’s how the story has unfolded:
First came Mama Bear in the form of Gov. John Kitzhaber’s proposal to save $800 million in the bloated 2013-15 PERS budget. The governor’s series of well-considered reforms drew praise from many, but his porridge still was a bit lukewarm for some tastes.
Papa Bear stepped up to the stove last week wearing the Oregon School Boards Association’s name-tag. His porridge includes all the governor’s reform ideas plus some spicy additions that would more than double the cost savings to PERS. It’s a five-course meal that would go far in satisfying our financially famished local government and public education programs, which are suffering because so much of their budgets is lost in the PERS forest.
But immediately, there was a cry of protest.
“This porridge is too hot,” said Rep. Peter Buckley (D-Ashland), co-chair of the Joint Ways and Means Committee. Ironically, since he helped design Oregon’s huge 2010 tax increase on businesses and individuals, Buckley called Papa Bear’s porridge the largest tax increase ever. Reforming PERS spending, it appears, is a tax on those who have received so much more than promised.
Thus comes Baby Bear to the table, in the guise of timid PERS reform proposed by Buckley and fellow Ways and Means co-chair Sen. Richard Devlin (D-Tualatin). Their porridge is a mild slap in the face to Oregonians who want genuine reform but, unfortunately, they are leaders of a political party that has great difficulty withstanding the pressure from public employee unions and their members.
It’s even more depressing to consider how the actual fairy tale ended:
“Just then, Goldilocks woke up and saw the three bears. She screamed, ‘Help!’ And she jumped up and ran out of the room. Goldilocks ran down the stairs, opened the door and ran away into the forest. And she never returned to the home of the three bears.”
It’s time — past time — for Oregonians to taste the porridge that is just right. Let’s make a PERS bed that fulfills only the original promises of a retirement program that became overstuffed while no one was looking.
Jeb Bladine can be reached at jbladine@news register.com or 503-687-1223.