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Legislators have chance to prove Oregon still works

Legislators from Washington and Clackamas counties can help this state send a powerful message next week when they meet for a one-day special session in Salem.

In short, they can show the world — and particularly businesses and investors who create good jobs — that Oregon is a place where big problems can be solved and where government can still work.

Many states throughout the nation are struggling with the same issues now confronting Oregon — including unsustainable public-sector pension obligations that in turn leave state and local governments constantly in search of money. The “grand bargain” that will come before the Legislature on Monday, Sept. 30, is an attempt to deal directly with the unfunded liability looming over this state’s Public Employees Retirement System.

If legislators can agree on a new and legally defensible plan to cap cost-of-living increases for PERS recipients, they will decrease that future liability and cut PERS rates that school districts and other local agencies must pay.

In addition to the major PERS changes, legislators will consider targeted tax increases. Businesses and higher-income earners might be unenthusiastic about tax increases that could hit them disproportionately, but they also must consider the long-term benefits of PERS reforms. Reducing the unfunded PERS liability will pay a dividend for decades, limiting the need for future tax increases while also providing more generous funding for education.

Many business groups — including the Westside Economic Alliance — recognize the great opportunity that legislators have to secure a better future for Oregon. That’s why they are pushing their lawmakers — both Democrats and Republicans — to accept the pieces of this bargain they don’t necessarily like.

If legislators approve a plan that curtails the growth of PERS, while still being fair to public employees, they will place Oregon on a more sustainable economic path. Along the way, they also will define Oregon as a state where it’s still possible to design real bipartisan solutions to long-running problems.




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