Even without full-blown reform of the state’s Public Employees Retirement System pension rules, there are small changes to be made that could save the system money and make it more equitable. State Rep. Gene Whisnant, R-Sunriver, has found one of those changes and will introduce a bill to effect it in next year’s short legislative session.
Call it the “Mike Bellotti Pension Reform Act,” if you wish.
Bellotti, the former University of Oregon football coach and athletic director, collects more than $45,000 per month in PERS benefits, based on a final salary of more than $1.3 million a year. But there’s a catch. Only $299,000 of that sum actually came in salary from the University of Oregon. Much of the rest came from outside sources but was included when the state calculated Bellotti’s retirement benefit.
Thus, Bellotti, in his final years at UO, received endorsement money from Nike and the Oregon Sports Network, according to The Oregonian. In addition, there were ticket sales incentives and other perks that boosted his final salary.
It’s worth remembering that Bellotti, while he’s the beneficiary of a system that allows Oregon’s public employees to boost their final salaries with money from outside sources, did not game the system. State law says universities and community colleges must adopt standards governing outside income; it does not prevent that income from being lumped in with regular wages when calculating PERS benefits.
Whisnant’s bill would change that by making it clear that money from outside work, even if it must be approved by the university, cannot be counted as part of a public employee’s salary.
The change would not automatically erase PERS’s financial problems, to be sure. The system’s unfunded liability, currently pegged at more than $25 billion, won’t change much if Whisnant’s bill is approved.
What the bill will do is close a gaping PERS loophole. Whisnant’s bill should be approved.