In 1971, the Oregon Attorney General withdrew a 1963 opinion and ruled for the first time that Oregon legislators could join PERS. That single action set in motion a chain of events that has had disastrous consequences for the people of Oregon. And those consequences will continue for decades unless fundamental fairness is restored to the PERS decision making process.
From 1945 through 1970, before legislators could join PERS, PERS benefits remained constant. A PERS employee who retired after a full career would receive a retirement benefit of approximately 50% of his or her final average salary and that 50% benefit included what the retired employee received from social security. Additionally, the 50% retirement benefit was funded by contributions from both the public employer and the public employee.
But all that changed in 1971 after the legislators were allowed to join PERS. During the next 10 years, the PERS legislators dramatically increased PERS retirement benefit. They doubled the pension funded by the public employer’s PERS contribution. They allowed unused sick leave to be counted as salary in determining the employer funded pension. They made the people of Oregon guarantee that PERS members employee accounts would never earn less that a minimum rate, no matter what the actual investment earnings on their accounts were. They passed the PERS pick up law which allowed PERS members to make the people of Oregon pay their employee PERS contributions for them. They also passed a law that allowed anyone who had ever been a legislator on or before January 11, 1987 to retroactively join PERS.
Then, after the legislators doubled the PERS benefits for themselves and for every other PERS member, they made the Oregon judges join PERS in 1984 and they made PERS funding Oregon highest financial priority, in 1989. Today, PERS assessments must be paid before any other money can be spent to provide services to the people of Oregon. That is why school districts must reduce education services when there is a budget shortfall. They do not have the option of reducing PERS payments unless they layoff employees. That is also why the PERS legislators are prohibiting low-income senior citizens who have a reverse mortgage from deferring their property taxes. Those taxes are needed to pay PERS and PERS gets paid first, it always gets paid first.
To protect PERS benefits, the PERS legislators have thrown their own children and grandchildren and those of all Oregonians under the proverbial school bus. In doing so, they have denied those children the same quality of public education that those PERS legislators received. And, now, to again protect their PERS benefits, they are willing to throw their parents and grandparents into the street.
This is wrong and it must change. My fight to ensure that judges who are PERS members cannot decide PERS lawsuits is one step in changing the power that PERS members have over Oregon. And it is a fight that we will win. Those PERS members currently control all three branches of Oregon’s government and no changes can be made to PERS without their consent. But their day of total control is coming to an end.