By editorial board • 

Plenty of options on PERS, given the will and courage

McMinnville Rep. Ron Noble has a better idea. So does Bend Rep. Gene Whisnant. So do other critics of Oregon’s overly generous and easily gamed Public Employees Retirement System, whose unfunded liability has soared past $25 billion.

The problem is, the reform ideas are all surfacing from Republicans, who lack the mean to enact them. Because of the financial largesse of Oregon’s powerful public employee unions, which have a vested interest in the bloated, budget-busting status quo, Democrats control virtually ever facet of state government.

Thus, to Democrats like Gov. Kate Brown, the challenge isn’t finding ways to cut the runaway cost, but marshalling yet more taxpayer dollars to feed a seemingly insatiable appetite. To that end, Brown recently convened a task force dedicated solely to identifying new ways to raise revenue.

John Kitzhaber was the last high-ranking Democratic leader to champion PERS cuts. The unions retaliated by starving him for money and manpower in his next re-election campaign — a lesson not lost on his cautious and calculating successor, who seems more comfortable closeted in private than appearing in public to lead.
Noble proposes to sever elected legislative, executive and judicial branch office-holders from the system. He advocates shifting them to deferred compensation plans of comparable value.

In itself, that would do nothing to address the mounting shortfall. But it would end the travesty of having all the key decisions on PERS made by PERS beneficiaries.
Whisnant proposes to prevent higher ed employees from including outside income in final salary determinations, including grants, speaking fees, endorsement deals and TV contracts serving to potentially double or triple their monthly take for life. That would close the door on finagling that pushed the annual PERS payout to former UO football coach Mike Bellotti to more than $500,000 and former OHSU neurosurgeon Johhny Delashaw to more than $650,000.

In fact, Whisnant’s idea could profitably be expanded to cover a wide range of rampant pension-spiking abuse down in the ranks.

Employees may count overtime and unused sick and vacation time, so tend to load up on them during their final three years — the ones used to calculate benefits. They also get to count cellphone reimbursements, car allowances, incentive pay, honoraria, consultation fees and income from side engagements, including clinical practices for physicians.

That’s all legal today, but shouldn’t be. Beleaguered taxpayers are tired of picking up the tab.

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