By Jeb Bladine of the News-Register
Here are a few updates and tidbits involving the Oregon Public Employees Retirement System and its financial impact on Oregonians. As usual, for every piece of good news there's a catch.
In late 2002, local governments in Oregon won a lengthy lawsuit seeking to stop the unbridled growth of PERS benefits. A rousing opinion by Marion County Circuit Court Judge Paul Lipscomb paved the way for public pension reform actions by the 2003 Oregon Legislature.
This week, opponents in that Lipscomb lawsuit tentatively settled their case by agreeing to basic concepts from last year's legislative reform. But here's the catch: Public employee organizations are challenging the Legislature's action in the Oregon Supreme Court, hoping to have it all declared unconstitutional. If that happens, it's going to take more than Measure 30 to save Oregonians from financial disaster.
On another front, eyebrows were raised this week when Multnomah County announced that PERS pensions will not be subject to the county's new 1.25 percent personal income tax. Contrary to previous belief, it seems that only the state can tax PERS benefits, so proceeds from the Multnomah County tax will drop by about $1 million. At least if Measure 30 passes, PERS pensions will be subject to the state income tax surcharge.
Closer to home, the News-Register has continued its effort to acquire certain public records from PERS in order to analyze the skyrocketing pension payments in recent years. That effort was delayed more than a year while we fought, and won, a rather obscure but expensive public records lawsuit against the state pension agency.
The good news is that new leaders of PERS have agreed to provide the records we requested for a much reduced fee than previously demanded. The bad news is that despite losing the lawsuit, PERS quietly passed an Oregon Administrative Rule that tries to contradict what the judge ordered. Apparently, the agency still believes that it can change state law at its whim.
Finally, here's an upcoming challenge in analyzing the cost of PERS:
Like McMinnville School District, local governments throughout the state have paid off huge debts to PERS through bonded indebtedness. They save money through lower bond interest rates. The catch is, all those bond repayments are likely to disappear from public view as part of the actual ongoing cost of PERS.
There's always a catch.
Jeb Bladine is editor and publisher of the News-Register.