Editorial: Tax bill defeat could prompt better PERS reform


Published Apr 23, 2013 at 05:00AM / Updated Nov 19, 2013 at 12:31AM

Rep. Mike McLane, R-Powell Butte, and Sen. Ted Ferrioli, R-John Day, the two minority party leaders in the 2013 Legislature, have their work cut out for them this week. One of the Democratic leadership’s key budget-balancing measures is up for its full House vote. If it is approved, it will move on to the Senate. Two Republicans in each house would have to vote with the Democrats to get the measure passed. That won’t happen if McLane and Ferrioli can hold their membership together.

We hope they can.

House Bill 2456 is bad on its merits — it raises taxes on business and on upper income Oregonians — but perhaps more important, it’s being used as a substitute for much-needed real reform to the state’s Public Employees Retirement System.

There’s almost universal agreement in Oregon that schools need more money. Days have been cut and teachers laid off in most districts around the state since the onset of the last recession, and Oregon, which ranked in the top 20 states for educational spending in 2001, ranked 31st by 2009, according to the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s “Kids Count” data center.

Part of schools’ problem, unfortunately, is PERS. The state gives school districts a set amount for each student enrolled, and money spent on PERS cannot be spent in the classroom. While no one believes teachers and state and municipal employees are not entitled to a decent retirement package, we suspect most Oregonians would agree that it’s a bad idea to delay addressing the system’s unfunded liability on the hope that somehow the stock market will go ever higher.

If McLane can hold his 25 fellow Republicans firm on an expected budget vote this week, Democrats almost certainly will have to make a more serious effort at changing PERS if they hope to balance the state’s budget, as required by law. If he fails, there’s a second chance when the bill reaches the Senate.

Either defeat would require Democrats to come back to the PERS table, we suspect, and that’s good. Schools do need more money, and by the same token PERS needs real reforms.