By CHARLES E. BEGGS
The Associated Press
SALEM - Legislative changes to the troubled Public Employees Retirement System are unlikely in the current special session, a key lawmaker said Monday.
"I don't think we're going anywhere with PERS," said Sen. Ted Ferrioli, R-John Day, chairman of the Senate Revenue Committee.
The panel has been considering a bill that would require the pension system to update by Jan. 1 mortality tables that haven't been revised in 24 years.
PERS Director James Voytko said imposing that deadline for the change would severely burden an accounting system that's already hurting because of an outdated computer system.
Voytko said reports of possible pension changes have spurred employees to move up retirements. He told the committee recently that the number of employees planning to retire on July 1 is the highest in recent years.
The 1978 mortality tables are contributing to a projected $8.5 billion shortfall in the pension system that covers 294,000 retired, present and former state and local government workers.
Ferrioli said a lack of a compromise between public employee and employer groups makes it doubtful - "short of a miracle" - that lawmakers can further tackle the issue in the special session.
His panel also is handling most of a budget-balancing package that was passed during the weekend by the House.
Pension benefits are topping estimates because payouts are based on 1978 life expectancy tables and people are typically living four years longer than when the table was adopted.
The PERS board is weighing adopting a new table but hasn't decided how to do it. Some options would lower pension checks for future retirees and could prompt legal challenges.
Courts have ruled that government can't reduce pension benefits already earned.
Legislative leaders have hoped that by forcing PERS to update the tables, they could find some savings to help close the state's $860 million budget shortfall.
If new tables are adopted by next year, it would save an estimated $54 million in the current budget and eventually reduce costs by as much as $1.5 billion over the lifetimes of current employees.
A plan endorsed by local government leaders to phase in new tables over five years also went nowhere in the House. That plan could save state and local governments $1.2 billion in the long run.
A House panel considered but didn't approve a measure advanced by labor unions that would apply new tables only to earnings after the tables took effect. That would save just $15 million in the current budget and close to $500 million over the lifetimes of current employees.
Brian DeLashmutt, a lobbyist for police and other public safety workers, said an advantage of the union plan is that no worker would lose any benefit earned up to the point the new tables are adopted.