When you look at what the Oregon legislature has done to protect PERS benefits, there can be no doubt that to the majority of legislators PERS is the state’s highest spending priority. A perfect example is the special legislation passed by the legislature in 2009 which allowed the Oregon Department of Correction to release prisoners before they had completed their sentences. Under Measure 57, which was adopted by the people in 2008 after being referred to them by the legislature, those prisoners were required to serve their full terms. The only exception was if the legislature, by a 2/3’s vote in each house, allowed the the prisoners to receive early releases.
In 2009, the Oregon Department of Correction was experiencing a budget shortfall. In response to the financial situation, the legislature passed HB 3508 by the required 2/3’s majority in each house. That bill allowed for early release of prisoners and was projected to save the Department of Corrections $6,000,000. At the same time, the Department of Correction was paying over $14,000,000 per year in employee pick up contributions.
The conclusion is inescapable. To the Oregon legislature, the use of public money to pay public employee PERS contributions for the public employees, rather than having the employees pay their own PERS contributions, is more important than requiring convicted inmates serve their full sentences. And it is not a coincidence that most of the 2009 legislators were PERS members and that their employee PERS contributions were also being picked up for them by the people of Oregon.
This situation will continue as long as legislators are allowed to join PERS after they are elected to the legislature. Their personal financial interest will override the obligation they have to all of the people of Oregon.