Legislators, judges and statewide officials helped build Oregon’s Public Employees Retirement System. Over decades, they have made thousands of decisions that helped create the complex and underfunded problem it has become.
They are also beneficiaries of that system.
That obvious conflict of interest is the target of House Bill 4115, which would remove those officials from PERS, moving them to a separate deferred compensation plan on July 1 of this year.
The measure’s chief sponsors are Bend Republican Rep. Knute Buehler and Ron Noble, R-McMinnville. Fifteen other legislators, including Gene Whisnant, R-Sunriver, have signed on. Dominated by Republicans, the list includes two Democrats: Rep. Janeen Sollman of Hillsboro and Sen. Betsy Johnson of Scappoose.
We haven’t heard any credible claims of individual officials acting to protect their own bank accounts at the expense of the public. But it’s a widely accepted ethical principle that a person shouldn’t be making decisions in a governmental capacity that have a personal financial impact.
In recent years, the clearest examples have come from the state’s Supreme Court, which has rejected many, though not all, of the reforms approved by the Legislature. HB 4115 would affect judges on the Supreme Court and Court of Appeals.
Meanwhile, the PERS problem has grown, with estimates late last year of an approximately $25 billion deficit that will require $1.4 billion more from local and state governments in their 2019-21 budgets.
HB 4115 goes into great detail on how to make the transition and protect the interests of the lawmakers, judges and statewide officials who would be affected. No doubt lobbyists and lawyers will have plenty to say, and adjustments to the fine print may be appropriate.
The overarching goal, however, is correct. Solving the problems of PERS requires open and unconflicted minds. It’s also essential to the state’s finances and fairness to its beneficiaries.