In January, 2011 there was a lot of indications that the 76th Oregon Legislative Assembly would make reforms to PERS. Over 30 separate bills were introduced that would reduce benefits and make more money available to the people of Oregon to pay for services. Some of those bills were introduced at the request of Governor Kitzhaber. Not surprisingly, however, none of those bills passed. In fact, none of the PERS reform bills were even voted on.
If you wonder why that has happened, there is a very simply answer. The Oregon legislature is controlled by PERS members. In the Oregon Senate, two-thirds of the members are in PERS, including every senator who holds a leadership position. No bill has a chance of passing unless PERS legislators give the bill their approval and when it comes to bills that will reduce PERS benefits, that is just not going to happen. It won’t happen because it could affect the PERS benefits of the legislators and it most definitely will affect the financial support that any legislator who vote for PERS reform will receive from public employee organizations.
Politicians who have voted for PERS reform have not only lost contributions but their opponents have received substantial support from public employee organizations. Just look at what happened to Greg Macpherson in 2008. This is taken from the March 7, 2010 Willamette Weekly:
“Macpherson, a benefits lawyer, is an expert on the Public Employee Retirement System, whose complexities figure into the Treasurer’s job. And unlike some current lawmakers who may want the job but recently spurned Kulongoski’s plea to reform the kicker, Macpherson aided the governor by taking on the thankless task of implementing PERS reform in 2003. Macpherson’s role in PERS reform cost him dearly in the 2008 Attorney General’s race. In that contest, public employee unions punished him by throwing extensive financial support to the eventual winner, John Kroger.”
There will be no PERS reform until the entire PERS law making process is reformed and that is what I am trying to do. I am starting at the top and have initiated legal action that I hope will prevent Oregon’s PERS judges from deciding PERS cases. If that happens, PERS will change because the people, not just the PERS members, will be making the decisions.