Deafening silence on PERS

By Baker City Herald Editorial Board May 27, 2011 12:49 pm

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.