Sunday’s Bulletin featured a New York Times story highlighting the devastating math of Oregon’s public employees retirement system known as PERS.
PERS has produced ridiculous outcomes. Consider former Oregon Health & Science University’s President Joe Robertson’s state pension of $76,111. A month. Mike Bellotti, the University of Oregon’s former football coach, had his retirement grossly inflated by licensing deals and endorsements. He gets more than $46,000. A month.
The retirement that Robertson and Bellotti get can make the blood boil. But the real outrage is to look at Oregon’s local governments, state governments and schools. They are paying the price of the state’s PERS shortfall of $25 billion plus. It hurts the ability to build roads. It hurts the ability to hire police. School districts face cuts.
Bend-La Pine Schools may see a $5 million increase in its retirement costs for the 2019-2020 school year. The district spends about $88 million on salaries now. The increase could mean the district may have to cut teachers, pay or the number of days children are in school. Just who is that good for? Thank PERS.
Robertson, Bellotti, teachers and other state workers are not the villains. They didn’t create the system. They played by the rules. They deserve a fair retirement package. The villains who escaped are the legislators of Oregon’s past that created PERS and allowed it to get out of control. But, alas, nothing much can be done about them.
Turn your wrath instead on the recent legislators and governors who either declared PERS was not a problem, claimed nothing could be done or proposed token reforms. Notable exceptions have been the legislators representing Central Oregon. In particular, state Sen. Tim Knopp, R-Bend, has come back to the Legislature again and again with proposed reforms only to see them escorted off to die in committee. As a candidate for governor, State Rep. Knute Buehler, R-Bend, is using his candidacy to champion those reforms.
Isn’t it time the state had a leader committed to do something about the problem? To her credit, Gov. Kate Brown backed a plan to enable some public employers to buy down their PERS liabilities by investing in side accounts. Some state money was added as an incentive. But the impact is likely to be small and it could even have a bad outcome if investments nosedive.
Brown and voters should be embarrassed that after four years of her leadership schools and other public entities are being forced to cut services. Oregon needs a governor committed to doing more about PERS. Demand statewide candidates explain what they are going to do to reform PERS. Vote for the candidates who will deliver change in the May primary.