The recent disclosure of retirement benefits that are being paid to PERS members has brought critical responses from many PERS members. The responses illustrate the fact that those PERS members view themselves as the bosses of Oregon, rather than as its employees.
An article in the November 23, 2011 Register-Guard, by Saul Hubbard, included comments made by David Moursund, a 75-year-old former UO professor who retired in 1992 and who is receiving over $230,000 per year in PERS retirement benefits. If he did retire in 1992 and is 75 years old now, he retired at age 56.
Professor Moursund, said he wasn’t happy that the PERS benefit information had been made public. “The way it will be portrayed won’t adequately reflect the full context,” he said. He acknowledged that his PERS benefit package had been improved in lieu of salary raises during his time as a professor. He also benefited from saving his money and from periods of sustained growth in the stock market. He added that PERS “is a perfectly reasonable system” and that it had “proved to be sustainable for a heck of a long time” before recent economic downturns brought it under the microscope. I expect that professor Moursund views are shared by most PERS members.
I have the following responses to professor Moursund’s comments:
1. The professor says that he was not happy about the amount of his PERS retirement benefits being made public. Retirement benefits, however, are paid to employees by their employer for services provided to the employer. Oregon public employees are employed by the the state of Oregon and it is the state that pays almost all of the retirement benefit and the state is the people of Oregon. Today, at least 70% of all PERS members pay nothing towards their PERS retirement benefits. Generally, it would be reasonable for an employer to know how much it is paying a retired employee. Any contrary conclusion would seem to be absurd. But that is exactly the position that professor Moursund appears to take and a review of who runs PERS shows why he would do so. Since 1971 PERS members have had absolute control over making PERS laws and since 1984 PERS judges have had absolute control over every court cases involving PERS issues. For the last 27 years, no PERS law has been made, changed or terminated without the express approval of PERS members. The only reason that the PERS retirement benefit information was disclosed was because a PERS judge refused to block the disclosure. This is probably the last thing the professor thought would happen since it has rarely ever happened after 1984. His unhappiness not surprising.
2. The professor’s statement that PERS is a perfectly reasonable system. From the point of view of professor Moursund and other PERS members, the current PERS laws may appear to be “perfectly reasonable” but that conclusion can be reached only if certain fundamental facts are ignored. Those facts are the PERS laws that created the benefits the professor is receiving were made only after Oregon legislators were allowed to join PERS in 1971. Legislators were prohibited from join PERS for its first 26 years. Once the legislators were allowed to join PERS, the non-PERS citizens of Oregon, who make up over 90% of the population, were excluded from any meaningful participation in the PERS legislative process. After excluding the non-PERS Oregonians, the PERS legislators more than doubled the PERS retirement benefits during the period 1971 to 1981. The legislators then realized that the people of Oregon could still change the PERS laws by initiative so they forced the Oregon judges to become PERS members in 1984. That effectively negated the ability of the people to change the PERS laws because any change they attempted to make would have to be approved by PERS judges. A system of law making that is exclusively controlled by one side is not “perfectly reasonable”, it is fundamentally unfair.
3. The professor’s assertion that PERS proved to be sustainable for a heck of a long time. That is accurate only because PERS legislators made PERS funding Oregon’s highest financial priority. Today, as a result of those laws made by PERS legislators, the resources of the state of Oregon are first paid to PERS. The service for the people of Oregon, which the state and all government agencies were created to provide, are funded only to the extent that money is left over after PERS is funded. This state spending priority was not chosen by the people of Oregon, it was chosen by PERS legislators and judges and was imposed upon the people of Oregon.
PERS is the way it is today only because PERS members took exclusive control of making PERS laws. Once they had that control, they aggressively changed the PERS laws to increase their benefits far beyond anything that was provided for when the people of Oregon were involved in making those laws. The disclosure of the retirement benefits that the people of Oregon are being forced to pay to their public employees has exposed the unrealistic view that PERS members have of PERS. The current PERS system is not fair, it is not reasonable, it is not sustainable and I believe that it is not lawful. Look at my blog post of November 24, 2011, Update 10. The Fight To Reinstate Ballot Measure 8 to see what I am doing about it.