By WILLIAM McCALL
The Associated Press
SALEM Any challenge to a revision in the mortality tables that decide pension benefits to state workers will go directly to the Oregon Supreme Court for review under a bill approved Saturday during the special session of the Legislature.
The Public Employees Retirement System has not updated its mortality tables since 1978.
Current actuarial tables show that people are living an average of four years longer, so the outdated tables are contributing to the projected $8.5 billion shortfall in benefits to 294,000 retired, present and former state and local government workers.
Adopting new tables by next year 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.
But PERS Director James Voytko has warned the aging computer system used to determine benefits will be burdened by any revision at a time when reports of pension changes have already prompted some public employees to speed up their retirement plans.
Voytko recently told the Senate Revenue Comittee the number of state workers planning to retire on July 1 has reached one of the highest levels in years.
The new mortality table under consideration by the PERS board of directors is expected to result in lawsuits because courts have ruled that government cannot reduce pension benefits already earned.
The bill approved unanimously by the Senate after a 50-2 vote in the House on Saturday would send all legal challenges directly to the state Supreme Court for review.
Lawmakers noted just before the vote that it will not change the way state workers qualify for benefits.
"It adds nothing to the rights of any individual public employee," said Rep. Tom Butler, R-Ontario.