The following article which I wrote was published in the Bend Bulletin on October 21, 2012.
PERS is a very relevant voter issue in the state election
By Daniel Re
Published: October 21. 2012 4:00AM PST
Bulletin reporter Lauren Dake’s Oct. 3 article regarding the candidate forum sponsored by the League of Women Voters was very informative. The candidates running for Senate District 27, Republican Tim Knopp and Democrat Geri Hauser, and for House District 54, Republican Jason Conger and Democrat Nathan Hovekamp, explained their stances on many issues, including PERS.
Regarding PERS reform, the article stated, “Both Conger and Knopp said they would like to see specific reforms to the state’s pension system. Hauser and Hovekamp said they are both open to reforms. But both Democratic candidates said they did not want to see the PERS reforms “vilify public employees.” The article did not indicate what Hauser or Hovekamp meant by “vilify.” But whatever they meant, they do not want it to happen to them. Both are public employees and Hauser is a tier one PERS member while Hovekamp belongs to PERS tier two.
Due to their PERS benefit tiers, Hauser and Hovekamp receive the greatest benefit from the money that goes to PERS. Oregon’s 2011-13 Legislatively Approved Budget gives $7.5 billion to PERS. That money is allocated to PERS members based on their PERS benefit tier. $7.2 billion goes to fund the benefits for tier one and tier two members. While they make up 54 percent of current PERS members, they receive 96 percent of the money. Only $208 million, 3 percent of the budget, funds benefits for Oregon Public Service Retirement Plan members, despite the fact that they make up 46 percent of current PERS members. The remaining 1 percent of the budget goes for operations. Tier one and tier two PERS members receive almost the entire PERS budget because they control the Legislature and they have given themselves the greatest benefits.
Hovekamp has informed me that, if elected, he will join PERS as a legislator. To date, Hauser has declined to say whether she would join PERS as a legislator, if elected. Knopp and Conger have stated they are not PERS members and, if elected, they will not join PERS as legislators.
This difference on PERS gives Senate District 27 and House District 54 voters a real choice on who will represent them in the Legislature. They can elect PERS members who, due to their PERS membership, are predisposed to support PERS. As tier one and tier two PERS members, Hauser and Hovekamp have 7.2 billion reasons to maintain the PERS status quo. Or, the voters can elect legislators who are not PERS members.
Any doubt that PERS membership influences how a legislator votes on PERS legislation is eliminated by looking at what legislators did after they were first allowed to join PERS in 1971. Between 1971 and 1989, they doubled PERS benefits, they passed the PERS pick up law which allows PERS members to require the people of Oregon to pay 100 percent of all PERS contributions, they passed the guaranteed minimum rate of return law which makes the people of Oregon guarantee that each tier one PERS member will earn a minimum return of his or her employee account every year, they twice allowed legislators to retroactively join PERS, they forced Oregon’s judges to join PERS and they made PERS funding Oregon’s highest financial priority.
Those changes to the PERS laws were made by PERS legislators and those laws are why every public agency has cut services and will be required to make even greater cuts starting July 1, 2013. They have to. There is not enough money to pay PERS and maintain services and PERS legislators require PERS to be paid first.
PERS is a relevant issue in this election, and voters know where each candidate stands. Now voters will decide who will represent them in the legislature and, in doing so, whether PERS funding or providing public services to all Oregonians should have the greater priority.
— Daniel Re lives in Bend.
Published Daily in Bend Oregon by Western Communications, Inc. © 2011