By CHARLES E. BEGGS
The Associated Press
SALEM Oregonians this fall would vote on whether to let the state issue $2 billion in bonds as a way of helping pay off the public pension system's huge debt under a measure passed Monday by the House.
The measure goes to the Senate as lawmakers try to expedite final approval by Friday. Election officials say they need approval by then in order to set up a statewide election on Sept. 16.
Voter approval is needed whenever the state incurs bonded debt.
The bill is a spinoff of an ambitious campaign by lawmakers and the governor to reform the Public Employees Retirement System, which currently has a $2 billion debt.
The bill passed Monday by the House would schedule a September referendum in which voters would be asked to let the state issue bonds as a means of refinancing the debt.
That would save the state about $90 million over the next two years because of current low interest rates, said State Treasurer Randall Edwards.
Edwards had asked for House Joint Resolution 18, which passed the House 45-11.
The measure if it's put on the ballot would ask voters to authorize about $5 billion in borrowing to refinance pension liabilities and other other debts yet to be identified.
Foes of the proposed ballot measure said it's too broad and paves the way for the state to head further into debt.
"We might as well raise taxes," said Rep. Tootie Smith, R-Molalla, calling the measure's wording "loosey-goosey."
Rep. Lane Shetterly, R-Dallas, was among those who voted for the bill, agreeing issuing bonds is a good idea because of low interest rates.
"This gives the Legislature access to the lowest cost form of debt," he said.