Nobody can really blame retired public employees for living high on their pension benefits. They're simply taking advantage of the disastrous decisions made by the PERS board in the 1980s and 1990s.
Not all public employees cashed in equally on the irresponsible actions that cost Oregonians billions of dollars. But many, retiring in their 50s, are banking bigger checks in retirement than when working. And that's a lifetime deal, with cost-of-living increases.
In 2003, the Legislature finally enacted several measures that attacked the problem. Some of them were struck down by the Supreme Court as violating contract rights, even though no contract promised that level of enrichment.
Resulting, outlandish benefit costs force school districts to increase class sizes, cut courses, squeeze athletics and other extracurricular activities while the education establishment lobbies legislators for an increase in tax dollars. Cities, counties and other public bodies face similar financial challenges.
Oregon's public pensions were never intended to provide such largess. Combined with health insurance, Oregon has the highest benefits package in the nation - 55 percent above the national average.
The original idea was to have pensions furnish between 50 and 60 percent of an employee's ending salary after 30 years on the job (slightly higher for police and firefighters). Most were expected to retire at age 65, so Social Security benefits would begin covering another 25 percent or so.
But the average PERS recipient retiring between January 2000 and November 2004 after 30 years on the job receives a pension averaging 107 percent of salary, according to an excellent article in The Sunday Oregonian.
The newspaper's analysis showed that reducing our public benefits package to the national average would make $500 million available next year for other services. That would reduce average school class size, now 30 percent above the national average.
Oregon Education Association and other public employee unions insist that public salaries are not unreasonable. However, combined with the benefits package, Oregon's K-12 employees are the eighth most highly compensated in the nation, while Oregon ranks 36th in per capita income.
McMinnville School District will pay around $1.75 million out of its general fund this year for PERS, and the district's average health insurance cost per full-time employee is almost $8,000. That takes benefits from our children's education.