by Senator Doug Whitsett
A total of thirty eight bills have been introduced this legislative session relating to the Public employee Retirement System. Thirty six of those bills are sponsored by Republican Legislators. I am either the chief sponsor or co-sponsor of nearly twenty of those measures.
It appears that all of the PERS related bills have been assigned to Rules committees. These committee chairs are able to hold the bills in their committees under the direction of the Senate President and the Speaker of the House until the legislature adjourns. To date, the Democrat leadership in both the Senate and the House has failed to schedule even one bill relating to PERS for a hearing.
So why is PERS reform so important?
The statewide cost of PERS to Oregon taxpayers has increased one billion one hundred million dollars ($1,100,000,000) during the current two-year budget period. The PERS Board has set employer rates to increase an additional $908 million during the next two-year budget period starting July 1st. The Board anticipates that yet another increase between $650 million and $700 million will be required in the following budget cycle.
That is a total increase in cost of two billion seven hundred million dollars ($2,700,000,000) payable by the taxpayers of Oregon.
That incredible amount of money would pay the full compensation for more than 16,000 public employees.
One third, or about $900 million, will be paid by school districts. That amount of money is enough to employ about 5,500 teachers.
Nearly one billion one hundred million dollars, or about 40 percent, will be paid by local governments such as cities, counties and special districts. That is enough money to pay for about 6,500 employees such as police and firemen.
Twenty seven percent, or about $730 million, will be paid by state agency employers. That is sufficient funding to pay full compensation for about 4,500 state employees.
The fact of the matter is that most of those 16,000 public employees are likely to lose their jobs over the next four years if we fail to enact needed changes to PERS. Taxpayers will continue to pay that obscene amount of money but they will not receive the benefit of the services that would have been provided by those 16,000 public employees. And Oregon’s economy will suffer because the $2.7 billion that would have been paid to public employees, and that would have circulated in the economy, will instead be sequestered in payments made to the retirement system.
A group of Republican legislators from both the House and Senate have worked with the Oregon School Boards Association to craft comprehensive PERS reform. We believe that enacting the provisions of SB 754 will roll-back the cost of PERS contributions by between $1.8 and $2.0 billion for the next budget period. Those taxpayer savings will continue into the foreseeable future.
Fourteen Republican Senators have pledged to vote for the comprehensive PERS reform found in SB 754. Only two yes votes are needed from Democrat Senators to pass the bill in the Oregon Senate. We have strong reason to believe that more than two Democrat Senators are willing to join us in enacting meaningful PERS reform.
What is the Democrat leadership waiting for?