Study: PERS employees get better benefits, cheaper
PORTLAND — Oregon public employees get better retirement benefits and pay less for them than counterparts in neighboring states, according to a Portland State University study.
The study from the school's Center for Public Service aims to account for variations in retirement plans in Oregon, Washington state and Idaho to compare three representative public employees: an accountant, a teacher and a police officer.
It concluded that to get benefits in retirement that would be worth $1 million today, the Oregon workers would pay $160,000. Similar employees in Washington and Idaho would pay $370,000 to $560,000.
An exception in Oregon would be the 30 percent of public employees who make a 6 percent contribution. Their payments would be about $320,000. Employers “pick up” that contribution for the remaining 70 percent.
A summary of the study has been circulating in Salem, where the Legislature is considering proposals from Gov. John Kitzhaber and individual lawmakers to rein in the increasing costs of the Public Employee Retirement System.
At issue are whether the proposals amount to breaking a contract and would be struck down by the state Supreme Court, and whether they are fair.
A union leader said in an email to The Oregonian that they would be unfair because employees have traded pay for pension benefits during contract negotiations.
“For decades, Oregon's public workers have paid for their PERS benefits through every paycheck by way of markedly lowered wages,” wrote Heather Conroy, executive director of Local 503 of the Service Employees International Union. “A secure retirement through PERS is the promise the state of Oregon has made year after year; to revoke that promise when retirees most need it is irresponsible and immoral.”
Employer groups said the study's conclusions were not a surprise, but the magnitude of the differences was stark.
“What this shows is that Oregon has the richest benefits, and employers are bearing the cost,” said Jim Green, deputy director of the Oregon School Boards Association. “Employees have no financial skin in the game.”