In a December 12, 2013 article in the Oregonian by Christian Gaston regarding Oregon and the sales tax, Rep. Barnhart, from Eugene, who is Chairman of the House Revenue Committee is quoted as saying “Until Oregonians are convinced that they want to support the school system and the universities and the community colleges, all of it (the discussion of a sales tax) is unimportant”.
The problem with Rep. Barnhart’s statement is that it does not really address the concerns of Oregonians. Rep. Barnhart is suggesting that Oregonians do not care enough about education to vote for a sales tax but that is not true. Rep. Barnhart is either forgetting about or refusing to acknowledge the tremendous financial obligation that has been forced upon Oregonians to fund PERS before one cent can be spent on education. This is not surprising, however, when you consider that Rep. Barnhart is a PERS member. He knows that laws enacted by PERS legislators like himself require PERS benefits to funded before any payment can be made to support the school system, universities and community colleges. And Rep. Barnhart receives a significant financial benefit from those laws.
The Oregonian article indicates that a 2.5% sales tax could raise approximately $3 billion dollars during the 2013-15 biennium and that would be just enough to prevent any budget shortfalls. During that same two-year period, the legislature has approved a budget for PERS of $9.5 billion. That is $1.5 billion higher than the PERS budget for the prior biennium. One-half of the entire potential budget shortfall is attributable to PERS, which must be paid first.
A large part of that PERS budget is needed just to fund the PERS Pick-up. In 2010, PERS stated that the PERS Pick-up obligation during the 2011 – 2013 biennium would be $874 million. The people of Oregon eliminated the PERS Pick-up when they passed Ballot Measure 8, in 1994, but the Pick-up was reinstated by the Justices of the Oregon Supreme Court in 1996. Those Justices were all PERS members and they had more to gain by throwing out the Pick-up than all other PERS members. That’s because the Pick-up amount for judges is 7% of compensation while it is 6% for all other PERS members.
The truth is that the people of Oregon have never decided not to fund to the school system, the universities and the community colleges. In fact by passing Ballot Measure 8, the people took action to ensure that more funds would be available for education by requiring all public employees, including Rep. Barnhart, to pay contributions to their own retirement benefits.
What Rep. Barnhart should have said is this: Until Oregonians are convinced that they want to support the school system and the universities and the community colleges, after they pay the exorbitant PERS assessments that have been forced down their throats by PERS legislators and the Supreme Court, all of it (the discussion of a sales tax) is unimportant. If he had said that, he would have been right. What he actually said was pure baloney.