Deafening silence on PERS

By Jayson Jacoby / The Baker City Herald

We had no idea we were so naive.

Less than three months ago, in this same space and under the headline "Legislature gets serious," we opined that Oregon lawmakers seemed to finally recognize that neither the state nor its cities, counties and school districts can afford to continue giving employees every fringe benefit they get now.

How embarrassing for us.

Which is nothing compared with the shame that state legislators ought to feel.

They've yet to take a single meaningful step, during a session that

started in January, to trim one of the more expensive of those

benefits: PERS, the Public Employee Retirement System, which covers

most workers in state agencies, cities, counties and school districts.

Baker City's PERS bill will rise by about $70,000 in the fiscal year that starts July 1.

And based on some projections, including a report from former Secretary

of State Phil Kiesling, the tab could rise even more over the next

decade.

It's quite possible that during that time the city will have to lay off

police officers or firefighters just to cover its share of the generous

PERS pension.

Rising costs threaten the jobs of teachers and other public employees, as well.

Yet, despite the ostensible endorsement of Gov. John Kitzhaber, the

Legislature has failed to do anything with a bill that would offer a

bit of relief to beleaguered public agencies.

House Bill 3218 would limit those agencies to paying 3 percent of their

workers' required 6-percent of salary contribution to their PERS

accounts. Most public agencies pay the full 6 percent.

That single change would save an estimated $132 million over the next two years.

Lawmakers have, however, managed to pass bills this week regarding the

size of pens for hens, and allowing pet dogs and cats to be included in

restraining orders.

We're pro-egg. And we like cats and dogs.

But we don't think much of the Legislature's priorities when it seems

to have more time for pets and egg-producers than for the people who

teach our kids and answer our calls when we're in danger.

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The Baker City Herald
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