Governor Kitzhaber, PERS And People Bashing

Governor Kitzhaber has consistently stated that he is against “bashing” public employees.  He often raises this point when the topic of PERS reform is discussed.  One of his latest statements regarding this appeared in an Oregonian story on November 17, 2012 by Ted Sickinger.  In that story the Governor is quoted as saying “If this gets ugly, if people try to make this into something about public employee “bashing”, I’m gone,” Kitzhaber said. “I’m not going to do it.”   While the Governor has expressed his opposition to public employee “bashing” for a long time, he has never explained what he means by “bashing”.

It can be assumed, however, that whatever the Governor means by “bashing”, it is something bad.  According to the Merriam-Webster online dictionary, “bashing”, when used as a verb, can mean to strike violently; to injure or damage by striking; to attack physically or verbally.  And the Governor is right.  No matter what he means when he uses the word “bashing”, Oregon’s rank and file public employees should not be subject to “bashing” regarding PERS.  They are not the cause of the PERS problem.

The PERS problem was created solely by legislators after the Oregon Attorney General ruled they could join PERS in 1971, 25 years after PERS was created.  Most of the legislators did join PERS and they quickly and aggressively increased PERS benefits.  They then forced Oregon’s judges into PERS and made PERS funding Oregon’s highest financial priority.   It is those legislators who are solely responsible for the PERS problem and they have no exemption  from verbal “bashing” for what they did.

In evaluating the Governor’s position on ” bashing” public employees regarding PERS, it is important to know that the Governor is a PERS member.  In fact, in 1987, while he was President of the Oregon Senate, he voted for a bill that allowed him and a few other legislators to retroactively join PERS.  By doing that, he personally gained eight years of PERS service credit that he never earned.  Those eight years of fictional service will significantly increase his final PERS retirement benefit.  The Governor’s position on “bashing” may be based on his concern that when the people of Oregon learn of the PERS shenanigans he has been involved in they may want to verbally “bash” him.  That would certainly explain his aversion to it.

It is also interesting to note that the Governor’s position on “bashing” is not universal.  He only seems to be concerned about “bashing” the public employees who receive PERS benefits.  I have never seen any statement in which he has  opposed or even expressed concern about the “bashing” that  non-PERS Oregonians have been subjected to when it comes to PERS.  When people recently expressed their concern about how PERS funding was hurting the education of their children, the Governor told them that the problem was their fault because they did not vote to raise taxes.

Oregon has a population of about 3,800,000 people.  Out of that number, there are around 330,000 active and retired public employees.  Not all of the retired public employees live in Oregon but, if they did, that would mean the active and retired public employees make up about 8.5% of the state’s population.  The Governor helped pass a law in 1987 that allowed him to retroactively become a PERS member.  That made him part of the  8.5% group of public employees that he is dedicated to protecting against “bashing”.  But what about  the other  91.5% of the people who are not PERS members?  For this group, the Governor has expressed no opinion on “bashing”.  Not only has this group been “bashed” by PERS for a long time but the Governor, during his long tenure as a PERS legislator and governor, has served as one of their primary “bashers”.

When the Governor cries out against “bashing” public employees over PERS his cry rings hallow.  To me, it seems that he is simply trying his best to use his official position to protect the PERS benefits that he has worked so hard to create for himself and the other PERS members.   Anyone who challenges what he is done is a “basher” and he will have nothing to do with them.

Dan Re

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About Dan Re

I am an attorney who has lived in Bend and practiced law since 1981. In educating myself about the Oregon Public Employees Retirement System (PERS), I was shocked at how the PERS laws were changed by the legislature, once legislators were allowed to join PERS in 1971, 26 years after PERS was first created. Those changes personally benefitted the legislators who made them at the direct financial expense of the people they were elected to represent. That is wrong and I intend to change it. In 2009, I started a non-profit 501(c)(4) corporation, In RE The People, Inc., for the purpose of informing concerned citizens of what happened regarding PERS and other issues of social and civic importance. I then created this blog to further that objective.
This entry was posted in Governor Kitzhaber, Oregon judges, Oregon legislators, Oregon PERS, public employees retirement plan and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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