In March, 2011, Governor Kitzhaber stated that “We will not solve our budget crisis or the challenges that face our system of public education or health care by attacking the labor movement or trying to make scapegoats out of our public employees.” The Governor was right. The problem with Oregon’s budget is not our public employees. The problem is with the politicians who were elected to represent the interests of all Oregonians but after being elected they deliberately chose to be classified as public employees so they could join PERS. After a politician makes that decision, his or her financial interests are exactly the same as the public employees and the politician’s objectivity is destroyed.
Governor Kitzhaber is one of those politician. As an Oregon legislator he intentionally elected to join PERS and he has vigorously supported and defended PERS at every turn. There is no doubt that the super priority status the legislature has given to PERS funding is why the drastic service reductions in public education and health care are being made. Today, PERS public employers must pay their PERS assessments first. They can provide the services they were created to provide only to the extent they have money left after their PERS retirement benefits have been paid for. Our legislators and our governors, most of whom joined PERS after being elected to those offices, made that policy decision and they have benefited handsomely from it at the direct expense of public education and health care.
What Governor Kitzhaber was really saying in March, 2011 is that Oregon will not solve its budget crisis or the challenges facing public education or health care by attacking and trying to make scapegoats out of our legislators and governors who joined PERS and then made PERS funding Oregon’s highest financial priority. I beg to differ with the Governor. I believe that restoring representation of all interests to the PERS decision making process is exactly what will solve Oregon’s budget crisis. The best way to do that is to hold those who create the present system accountable and to demand that the system be changed.