Oregon lawmakers no doubt can close their eyes and almost smell a home-cooked meal this morning, so close are they to adjournment. Yet even as they get ready to go, they’ve got major issues before them.
An effort to make further reforms to the state’s Public Employees Retirement System continued Friday, though reaching an agreement that will make it through both houses seems unlikely to come before the weekend is over.
The latest measure would cut cost-of-living increases for retirees enough to end the need to defer payments into the system by the state and others, according to the Statesman Journal newspaper. Meanwhile, a companion package of tax increases on businesses and higher income Oregonians would raise an additional $195 million in revenue during the next biennium.
There are some advantages to the current approach — schools get badly needed funds now and there’s money for mental health services — but the disadvantages are equally clear.
The new proposed changes to PERS do not accomplish the kind of structural reform to the state’s retirement system that it needs. As for proposed tax increases, without that basic reworking of PERS it’s difficult to justify increasing taxes on businesses or individuals.
Lawmakers have had six months to work on serious reforms to PERS and they’ve failed to do so. Instead, they’ve nibbled at the edges, chipping away at public employee benefits without correcting the problems that got us here in the first place. As for taxes, we’ve never opposed all tax increases. It may well be possible to justify new or increased taxes if the retirement system is improved.
Lost in all this could be House Bill 3194, which makes changes to the way the state deals with some property and drug crimes. It’s an important measure and it deserves to get the votes it needs. Other good measures also await action.
That may be too much to ask at this late date, and it points out a real problem for lawmakers. With little time left, lawmakers may rush through what remains and race to go home.