Dear Governor Kitzhaber,
I was happy to read your comments regarding the need for PERS reform in the November 10, 2012 Oregonian article by Mike Rogoway and Ted Sickinger. PERS reform is important but there is to be any chance of that happening in the 2013 legislature your support and leadership will be required. I am confident that if you devote the same energy and determination you gave to the creation of the PERS pick up, to substantially increasing PERS retirement benefits, to exempting PERS membership records from public disclosure and to the 1987 law that allowed you to retroactively join PERS, legislative PERS reform will be possible next year.
Reforming PERS benefits, such as the pick up, cost of living adjustments and tax benefits for out-of-state retirees who pay no Oregon income taxes is a good start. But those benefits are not the problem with PERS. They are just symptoms of the problem. The real PERS problem is that the system under which PERS laws are made is controlled by PERS members in the legislature and the judiciary. It wasn’t always that way. When PERS was created in 1945, neither legislators nor judges could join PERS. PERS laws were made by independent legislators working with representatives of the public employees. The interests of all Oregonians were represented in that process. After the Attorney General ruled legislators could join PERS in 1971, non-PERS Oregonians lost effective representation regarding PERS matters in the legislature. When the judges were forced into PERS in 1984, the deck was stacked in favor of PERS members in every PERS lawsuit.
The Oregonian article mentioned that Becca Uherbelau, spokeswoman for the state teachers union, noted that prior court cases have called into question the legality of some PERS fixes. While Ms. Uherbelau is correct, it must be pointed out that every PERS case that raised that question was decided by judges who were PERS members. For the first thirty-eight years PERS existed, judges had their own independent retirement system and they decided PERS cases impartially. The judges are in PERS today only because PERS legislators put them there. The legislature has the power to ensure that PERS cases are decided by judges who are not PERS members. This reform is critical. It will insure that everyone is treated fairly in PERS lawsuits and it will restore the credibility of the court when PERS cases are decided.
Mr. Governor, the legitimacy of government action depends upon the consent of the governed. Since 1971, the only people who have consented to the changes made to the PERS laws have been PERS members. Today, no PERS law can be made or changed without the consent of PERS legislators and PERS judges. That’s wrong and it has cost the people of Oregon billions of dollars.
You have recognized that PERS must be reformed. But it will not be adequately reformed until the fundamental fairness that existed under the original PERS laws has been reinstated.
Daniel C. Re