Most of Oregon’s legislators are members of the Oregon Public Employees Retirement System (PERS). PERS members, however, make up less than 10% of Oregon’s population. Despite their clear minority status, PERS members have taken complete control over the legislature, the courts (all Oregon judges are PERS members) and the Governor’s office (Governor Kitzhaber is a long time PERS member). It is not surprising, therefore, that protecting and enhancing financial benefits for PERS members has become Oregon’s number one priority. This fact was made indisputably clear by the following two actions taken by the Oregon legislature in 2011.
Action One. Under prior PERS law, the PERS legislators gave themselves and all other PERS members extra PERS payments to offset the Oregon income tax that they would have to pay on their PERS retirement pensions. While that law was intended to only benefit retired PERS members actually paying Oregon income tax on their retirement benefits, the law did not impose that limitation. As a result, retired PERS members who moved to another state were getting that extra benefit payment even though they were not paying any Oregon income tax . To address this problem, bills were introduced in the 2011 legislature which would have stopped the payment of the extra benefit to persons not paying Oregon income tax. Only one of the bills, HB 2456, was eventually passed but it was watered down so much that it has virtually no impact on the problem it was intended to solve. For more information on this go to http://www.oregonafscme.com/?one=/unionactive/view_article.cfm&HomeID=212481&page=PERSUpdate on the Oregon AFSCME COUNCIL 75 website. Under Action One, the PERS legislators fought hard to protect unintended benefits for PERS members.
Action 2. Another law passed by the 2011 legislature substantially increased the qualification for senior citizens to defer their property taxes. The maximum income limit was reduced, the property value was reduced and all persons with reverse mortgages are no longer eligible for the deferral program. Many seniors who previously qualified for this benefit, no longer did. The State was having to pay too much money to support this program for senior citizens, so it reduced the number of persons who could qualify for it. See this article from the Bend Bulletin, dated September 23, 2011 http://bendbulletin.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20110923/NEWS01/109230385.
A simple comparison of Action One and Action Two demonstrates that the PERS members who control the Oregon legislature will do what ever is necessary to protect PERS benefits, even if it has disastrous financial consequences to the State’s senior citizens. In Action One, the PERS legislators had no problem giving unintended benefits to PERS members who retired and left Oregon. If payment of those unintended benefits had been stopped, as they should have been, the money saved could have been used for the property tax deferral program to benefit financially disadvantaged seniors in Oregon. In that case, Action Two would not have been needed. But, instead of doing that, the PERS legislators decided to keep sending that money out of Oregon to help people who were never intended to receive it.