Brad Witt

As we enter the last month of the 2019 Legislative session, things are moving quickly, and many bills are moving through both chambers.

This past week, the Oregon House approved SB 1049, the PERS reform bill. As a state we have seen the PERS unfunded liability balloon since the recession. Employer contribution rates have more than doubled in the last decade, forcing government employers to lay off staff and make program reductions.

Even in the best of times the increase in required contributions to pay down the $27 billion unfunded liability has led public employers to make painful cuts. For school districts this has meant laying off teachers and cutting school days and other critical services.

I voted in favor of SB 1049 because I believe it will help accomplish two important things. First, the bill includes system-wide cost savings that will protect critical services and ensure long-term stability in our retirement system. Secondly, it will head off efforts to make even deeper cuts to public employee benefits.

The bill is the result of years of legislative and actuarial analysis to determine the best ways to reduce the costs of PERS. Changes that will reduce costs for public employers in a way that is legally permissible, actuarily sound, equitable and system-wide.

Thanks to the advocacy of public employees, this proposal was made stronger, eliminating cuts to the Money Match and ensuring there were both one-time and ongoing resources dedicated to paying down the unfunded liability.

One of those ongoing, new PERS revenue resources will be the net proceeds from Oregon Lottery Sports Betting. This was a concept I introduced in HB 2288 this session, and it was adopted in full form as part of SB 1049. The Oregon Lottery plans to legalize sports betting before the 2019 NFL season starts and the program is estimated to contribute tens of millions of dollars each year to reduce the cost of the PERS program.

I am proud to have found a means by which serious reductions in PERS costs will be realized without further burdening our employers or public employees.

For too many years, Oregon lawmakers have been unable to come up with a PERS reform solution, and I believe inaction this session would have caused a much worse result for public employees and ultimately for communities across the state. Individuals and organizations are making very real threats to put PERS reform on the ballot. One threatened ballot measure would create yet another retirement tier, denying future employees access to a pension entirely, and instead create a system where their retirement comes entirely in the form of a “defined-contribution” or 401K-style program. If such a ballot measure were to pass, it would mean disastrous impacts on PERS, and public employees.

Ultimately, I believe there will be long-term benefits for our entire state with this legislation, and I remain as committed as ever to ensuring our public employees are compensated in a way which they deserve.

Youth Fishing Day

On May 25, the Oregon Legislative Sportsmen’s Caucus and the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife hosted the annual Youth Fishing Day at the Capitol. Pools with trout and bass provided an opportunity for kids to learn about fishing. This was a wonderful success with hundreds of parents and children enjoying fishing, catching, and having their fish cooked right there. As Co-Chair of the Sportsmen’s Caucus, I was delighted to be a part of the fun event, and help young anglers land their first fish.

Rainier's A Street Rail Improvement Project

The Oregon Department of Transportation is holding a Community Open House June 18th in Rainier to discuss the East A Street Rail Improvement project. This project has been designed to enhance safety along the City of Rainier’s main street where the rail line operates closely to vehicle traffic, pedestrians and bikes.

The project will create one-way roads on either side of the track, eliminating the asphalt road surface over the track and exposing the railroad ties and aggregate base, called “day-lighting” the track. Safety improvements will physically separate vehicles and pedestrians/bikes from the tracks and improve rail crossing with new gates.

At the same time, the City of Rainier will be upgrading and relocating the city’s utilities, adding off-street parking and improving freight movements to Hwy 30.

You can learn more about the project, at the June 18th Community Open House from 3:30 – 6:30 p.m. at 106 W. B. St, the Rainier City Hall.

This session, I was happy to have Devon Linville as an Intern in my office. Devon majored in Political Science with a minor in Geography at the University of Oregon and became a PathwayOregon Graduate. Devon is a Scappoose High school graduate and was a soccer stand out, leading the Indians to its first All-League Soccer title. Devon now plans to serve in the Peace Corps and hopes to attend Graduate school in the Czech Republic. Congratulations Devon!

The Kicker Feedback

We are continuing to get feedback on the Personal Tax Kicker. Nearly 300 people have now contacted my office or weighed in on social media about this issue. The majority of respondents agree with my position which is that until there is a public vote to change the kicker law, the kicker in its entirety should be returned to the taxpayers. Thank you all for weighing in on this issue.

Thanks for reading my newsletter.

Brad

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