The Associated Press
PORTLAND - Oregon's state pension board plans to ask about 1,900 retired government employees to repay an average of nearly $28,000 each.
They are among 125,000 workers and retirees whose benefits will be cut as a result of a successful lawsuit filed by local governments who argued that the pension board put too much money in benefit accounts in 1999.
Most of the employees will see a few percentage points shaved from their monthly payments for life.
But employees who took lump sum payouts instead of lifetime payments and got roughly $400,000 to $800,000 each will get letters asking for some money back.
If all pay up, the total will amount to $53 million.
State officials said they will approach the question gingerly, but firmly.
"The nature of this debt is very sensitive," said Chris Gasperini , a manager in the Oregon Department of Revenue. "These are retired folks who, through no fault of their own individually, have had a court decision that really affected their lives. I have faith in human beings, that they recognize that they owe it and that they will pay it. ... I'm really hoping everyone just pays."
But, she said, "Those who downright refuse, we are going to take the action that will recover the state debt."
Officials of the Public Employees Retirement System say the plan is to mail the letters in September.
Gene Mechanic, a lawyer who has filed a class-action lawsuit on behalf of PERS retirees, said the board can't get back money from retirees by billing them or lowering their monthly payments. A 2003 law limits it to taking the money from other PERS accounts, he said.
PERS officials said it wouldn't be fair to make current public employees bear the financial burden for retirees who got more than courts ruled they were due.
"By law, we can't benefit one subset of our members at the expense of another subset," said Paul Cleary, executive director of PERS. "If we don't recover the money from the retirees, then it shifts that burden entirely onto current members."