Time is now for PERS reforms

Rep. Dennis Richardson

Rep. Dennis Richardson

After one month, the Oregon Legislature has introduced more than 2,000 bills, yet, on the topic of PERS reform, the silence is deafening.  The financial burden of PERS is crushing our school districts, state and local government.  The time for action on PERS reform is now.

Oregon’s Tier 1 PERS plan is one of the most generous retirement plans available anywhere.  The PERS system currently has an unfunded liability of more than $14 billion and state and local public employers must pay the PERS cost increases from their budgets like they do all other debts.

Medford School District’s PERS costs increased by $6 million in 2011-13 and it adjusted by using reserves and cutting 70 positions, cutting eight non-instructional school days, and Medford’s staff agreed to assume their 6 percent employee contribution to PERS, and teachers agreed to assume 7 percent of their health insurance costs. In 2013-15 Medford’s PERS costs will increase by another $6 million. Reforming PERS should be the Legislature’s top priority.

Unfortunately, powerful forces are working in the Capitol to block all meaningful PERS reform. The public employee unions know how to wield power. Ultimately, every legislator must look within and ask, “Regardless of the potential consequences to my next election, am I willing to reform a retirement system that I know is excessive, that has unsustainable costs and is substantially impairing the education of Oregon’s children, the safety of our streets and neighborhoods, and the well-being of our poorest citizens? Am I statesmen or just another politician?”

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