The Associated Press
PORTLAND - Recently retired Oregon public employees will have to repay more than $75 million in retirement benefits as the state trims $800 million in benefits to make up for past overpayments to pension accounts, the state's public pension board decided Friday.
Board members said the 27,000 affected retirees must pay so the state can ensure that current and future public employees get their fair share of retirement pensions.
The retirees, including teachers, state workers and city employees, were awarded pensions bigger than they were entitled to five years ago by the former retirement system board.
A judge later invalidated that decision, and the Oregon Supreme Court last month cleared the way for the pension board to recoup the money.
Nearly 200 public retirees, many angry with the decision by the Oregon Public Employees Retirement System board, attended the hearing.
"We're the ones who are going to bleed," retired teacher Linda Crane told the board. She retired at age 59 after PERS officials assured her how much retirement pay she could count on.
"I believed it," she said. "Now we are the ones who are at a disadvantage because we are older, and we don't have our job."
Public employees who retired between April 2000 and March 2004 will be hit hardest by Friday's decision.
In addition, about 100,000 current workers will see the balance in their retirement accounts reduced, the board decided.
Greg Hartman, lead attorney for public employees and retirees, says its illegal for the board to reduce pension payments promised to retirees at retirement, and he plans to challenge Friday's decision.
But even critics of the decision, including Hartman, complimented the retirement system staff for finding the "least painful" way to take money back from retirees.
The ruling will reduce the pension accounts of about 75,000 public employees who joined PERS before 1996 and are still on the job. They'll see the impacts of the court decision when PERS sends annual account statements.
Another 32,500 workers have retired since April 2000, when PERS put 1999 earnings into their pension accounts. Most of those retirees must pay the money back to PERS via reduced pension checks.
PERS will owe money to about 5,500 of them, said PERS spokesman David Crosley.