Many Oregonians may not care that the state’s retirement system has an unfunded liability of at least $25 billion.

But what if local school districts have to cut teachers to pay for it? For instance, Bend-La Pine Schools might have to cut staff or salaries to fund retirement.

The state Public Employees Retirement System recently released advisory rates to let government entities know how much they may have to pay in 2019. The rates had jumped up in 2017, will likely jump up in 2019 and then again in 2021.

The Bend-La Pine Schools budgets about $18 million a year for PERS now with another $7 million or so for debt service. It spends $88 million on salaries a year. If the PERS rates go up about 6 percentage points, the school district will have to pay about another $5 million on PERS, starting in 2019.

Most of the district’s costs — 80 percent — are its employees. It might have to cut staff, hours or pay.

A similar scenario will be played out in school districts and local governments across the state. It’s bad math. And a PERS board policy even disguises how bad it is.

The board “collars” rate increases. School districts and local governments are allowed to underpay what they should be paying according to PERS to support the system. That has the benefit of controlling PERS rate increases. But it also is a way to hide the burden of the system.

PERS problems were caused by decades of dreamy assumptions about returns on investments and inflated promises of benefits. Democratic legislators are locked in an embrace with public employee unions, which produces enough delay and denial to stop any serious consideration of meaningful reforms. Instead, Gov. Kate Brown has backed a cartoonish exercise in selling pieces of state government to pay down the liability. Her big goal of the next legislative session is to raise hundreds of millions in new taxes for green energy. Brown is a leader in Oregon’s PERS cover-up.

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