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PERS reform is not enough

I am pleased to see the Legislature move forward on PERS reform this session. I am less pleased with the level of that reform because no one — the Legislature, the governor, the public employee unions — no one, will pretend this corrects the problem of underfunding. And, no one will pretend PERS is sustainable without major reform.

If the steps in SB 754, which has yet to get a hearing, are too draconian, then reduce the percentages, but don’t just ignore reality and hope that the stock market will somehow lessen the drastic public employer increases. Those increases are nonnegotiable and must be paid with the result of cutting teachers, school days and all other public services and employees. Plus, increases will continue for several years. The COLA reductions proposed are not cuts, just slightly reduced increases.

The biggest reality ignored in this PERS discussion is that salaries and retirement bonuses created by outside funds laundered through a state agency or university are not government funds providing governmental services. University football is not government work - it is entertainment. I don’t care how much coaches get paid (a tight ends coach making three times what the governor makes), or what it takes to buy out a contract, that is not government work. The inflated salaries are not paid with government funds and should not be included in PERS retirement calculations.

This is a public employee retirement system. There is language throughout the enabling legislation (ORS 238+) that describes “participating public employer” and an “agency created to provide governmental service.” Salary is described as cash from the funds of a public employer. Specifically excluded are retirement incentives, severance pay, retirement bonuses and retirement gratuitous payments. Simply apply the law.

Other spiking techniques — radically increased overtime during the last three years of employment, or grants to OHSU doctors from drug companies or patents, are equally wrong to include — not illegal — but certainly unethical and should be addressed. Also, a reasonable cap on vacation time used as part of retirement salary computation would be fair. And, cap the amount that a person can earn in retirement.

Guaranteeing 8 percent on the PERS fund, and the money match is, finally, the most ridiculous and unsustainable element. This must be included in any serious reform. My final thought is for legislators: Do what must be done and let the Supreme Court do its job when it comes time to judge the legislation.

Ron Adams is a resident of West Linn.




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