Resolving the unfunded liability of the state’s pension program remains one of the big issues to be resolved this session.
PERS is now facing a $27 billion debt which has crippling costs for schools and all levels of state and local government.
House Speaker Tina Kotek and Senate President Peter Courtney have released a plan to reduce some of the rates public employers will have to pay in the coming decade. In a legislative briefing we learned that the plan would keep PERS employer rates from climbing to more than 30 percent of payroll by the early 2020s and staying there through the end of the decade. Instead, Kotek and Courtney’s plan would cap rates at about 27 percent in the early part of the decade and rates would slowly decline to under 25 percent by 2030.
Governor Brown presented a PERS restructuring plan last month that focused solely on protecting school districts from higher PERS costs. This most recent proposal has been designed to provide relief to all parts of state and local government, not just schools.
All PERS restructuring plans call for public employees to share some of the costs of shoring up the system. However, about two-thirds of the reduction in employer rates would be financed by stretching out the payback period from 20 to 22 years.
Under the Kotek-Courtney plan, Tier 1 and Tier 2 members, who are public employees and entered the PERS system before 2004, would have 2.5 percent of their salaries diverted from their individual retirement accounts into paying off the system’s debt. Workers hired in 2004 and after, and receive less-generous retirement benefits, would face a much lower diversion, just .75 percent of their salary. Workers earning less than $30,000 a year would not face these diversions.
Another part of the Kotek-Courtney plan is reducing the interest rates for retirees who use the so called “money match” method of calculating their pension benefits.
Legislative leaders are trying to avoid two of the most controversial elements of Governor Brown’s plan, rejecting the proposal to grab $500 million of next year’s “kicker” rebates, and protecting the reserve fund held by SAIF, the state-controlled worker’s compensation insurer.
I believe we need to honor the promises made to public employees and keep all benefits earned to date for employees who are retired or still in the workforce. I agree with former Governor Ted Kulongoski that we need to correct excesses in the current system going forward, while continuing to maintain adequate and competitive retirement benefits for current and future employees.
If PERS reforms include ensuring that employees share in the cost of supporting their retirement benefits, a practice which is consistent in both public-sector and private-sector plans, then employees should have choices to tailor their retirement benefits to their career plans.
On Tuesday, May 14, I was honored to welcome the family of Scappoose fallen firefighter Robert Hales to Salem, to testify in favor of SB 528 in front of the House Committee on Veterans and Emergency Preparedness.
Senator Betsy Johnson and I co-sponsored this legislation which will direct the Oregon Department of Transportation to erect and maintain roadside memorial signage that commemorates a firefighter killed in the line of duty. SB 528 was voted out of committee and will now go to the House Floor for consideration. Senator Johnson carried the bill in the Senate chamber, where it received unanimous support.
Ballots for the May 21st Special District Election are due by 8 p.m. on Tuesday, May 21. Voters are deciding on candidates running for School District Boards of Education, Rural Fire Protection Districts, Port Commissions, 9-1-1 Communications, Parks and Recreation, Libraries, Water Districts and other local governing bodies.
These Special Districts impact the quality of our lives and provide vital services to our communities, and your vote is important.
Rep Brad Witt (D) represents District 31. He may be reached at Rep.BradWitt@oregonlegislature.gov I, or at 503-986-1431.