Bladine: Warning issued about consequences of PERS bill

Rick Metsger of PAC/WEST Lobby Group blew the whistle in his recent commentary about a potential PERS boondoggle in the making. But in the rush of a short legislative session, few are paying attention to his warning.

At various times in history, Oregon’s Public Employee Retirement System has been the state’s most egregious example of government excess run amok. At key times, the system was saved from total ruin only through the intervention of strong-willed legislators willing to sacrifice their own political futures for the financial health of state and local governments.

Even with those legislative brakes on pension benefits, the PERS unfunded liability hit a staggering $28 billion at the end of 2022. Investment gains in 2023 helped and, slowly but steadily, benefits are ending for former “Tier 1” employees whose pensions often climbed well above their highest working salaries.


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

> See his column

Now comes HB 4045, building on this history: Sixty-eight years ago, Oregon provided a 20 percent bonus pension to police officers and firefighters. However, the definition of those jobs has expanded dramatically.

“Today,” wrote Metsger, “there are 25 groups of employees in various occupations now shoehorned in as police and firefighter beneficiaries who receive the 20 percent pension bump, some of whose physical stress amounts to nothing more than occasional shoulder strain from carrying a briefcase to the office and back.”

HB 4045 displays total loss of institutional memory by creating a new category of “bonus pension” employees — those engaged in a “hazardous position.” The bill is sailing through the 2024 Legislature, defining those positions as jobs that “work with or manage emergency or traumatic events … or carry a high risk of physical harm.”

That list would begin with emergency communications workers and Oregon State Hospital employees who have direct contact with patients. But the definition opens doors to add many new positions in the future.

One nurses’ union member, for example, testified in favor of HB 4045 by focusing on the hazardous condition of “management/HR using deceptive tactics and threatening behavior.”

“If past is prologue,” wrote Metsger, “the effect of a hazardous position classification could make other pension bonus obligations, and the pressure on PERS debt pale by comparison.”

He called HB 4045 “PERSdora’s Box.” He rightfully called on the Legislature to “take a step back … re-engineer the approach, and move forward in the 2025 session when greater scrutiny can be applied, lest it release a flood of statutory consequences they will never be able to rein back in.”

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


Don Dix

Since the majority of legislators are beholden to the unions for political support, and they have 'included' themselves in the PERS gravy train, there will be little chance of any changes this year or in the future. It's basically a closed loop (members only) that feeds off itself and operates on other people's money. The situation has been abused (as noted above) since inception. Nothing new here, just different players enabling the abuse.


Killing HB 4045 won't help. Compared to the PERS deficit, the money involved is a drop in the bucket.

Oregonians will see increased taxes for a hundred years in order to pay for the shortfall.

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