Editorial: Get information on PERS

Oregon’s state transparency website was designed to give citizens a clearer look at their government, and last week it got a bit better at its job. It added several links to information about its Public Employee Retirement System.

The links take readers to a variety of documents that lay out such things as how much participating government agencies owe the system and what rates they will pay in the coming year.

Though the numbers and percentages vary widely from agency to agency, the overall picture is grim.

Oregon, its cities, park districts and other units of government collectively owe PERS $16 billion. Paying off that debt will take more from government next year than it did this, a trend that may not change anytime soon.

It’s no wonder, then, that PERS reform is an extremely hot topic in Salem these days.

Gov. John Kitzhaber’s reform proposals, as one example, would bring close to $1 billion to the state’s coffers next year, money that schools and other agencies won’t see without changes.

Kithaber’s plan would cap cost-of-living increases, tapering them off as benefits rise above $24,000 per year. Of the $865 million Kitz-haber proposes to save, fully $810 million comes from that change.

The balance would come from changing the system so that retirees who do not pay Oregon income taxes do not receive extra money given for that purpose.

Yet reform is no slam-dunk, though it is more likely to happen if Oregonians make clear to their lawmakers that reform of the system is a priority statewide.

That’s where the transparency website comes in.

Unless citizens can get a handle on the system, what it is owed and who owes it, it will be difficult for them to understand what different proposals mean to them and their neighbors.

The information on the state’s website makes the task of sorting things out far less difficult.

Is it perfect? No. Despite a glossary, understanding what the numbers mean can be difficult for those who find numbers confusing.

Even so, it is far better than nothing, and interested Oregonians should take time to explore it at oregon.gov/transparency.

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