My head is spinning from the garbage being distributed lately. It seems that the announcement that PERS employer rates are going to rise has triggered a series of non-sequiturs from all directions. Everybody, it seems, has an idea to fix PERS. One thing unites all these ideas - they all involve taking things away from members. No matter what happens, PERS members are always the whipping boys and girls for advocates of smaller (or larger) government. Somehow it always seems as if we are greedy, ungrateful, spoiled brats who just want our PERS benefits and the public be damned. Everyone seems to forget that PERS benefits are not negotiable. They represent the ONLY retirement system available for most members (OUS members aside). The only element of the retirement system that was ever negotiated was the 6% pickup, but few today recall that it was presented to the unions in the form of an ultimatum - it is this or nothing. The unions wanted pay raises at a time when inflation was running at 12-14%. The state, predictibly, couldn't afford raises of that magnitude so Vic Atiyeh and Bob Straub came up with the idea that by paying for the employees' required PERS contribution, that would work out cheaper for the state and better for the employers. So, if you have a choice between the 6% pickup or nothing, you take the 6% pickup. I recall many, many PERS members griping to high heaven about not getting a pay raise. Now the 6% is historically part of the general PERS contract. It isn't going to be given up in negotiations.
So right now we have the Boregonian carping about high employer rates, The Statesman Journal writing about the ripoff of employer side accounts, and The Eugene Register-Guard complaining about the high cost of health care for public employees. Phil Kiesling wants to put everything in the union contracts up for renegotiation with tougher public employer negotiations. Steve Buckstein of the Cascade Policy Institute wants us to believe that if we raise taxes (via Measures 66 and 67) this will (a) all go to pay for the PERS "boondoggle" and (b) will cost the state much-needed jobs.
I can predict right now that politics will make very strange bedfellows during this coming January special election. We will have some peculiar groups of people supporting or opposing Measures 66 and 67. I'm not exited about Measure 66, but think Measure 67 is long overdue (or do I have them backwards?).
Regardless of what I think about these two tax measures, I can assure you that the lever that will be used to defeat them is going to be PERS costs. So, once again, we will be demonized no matter what happens. If the measures pass, people will bitch and moan that all the money is doing is to pay the costs for greedy PERS members. If the measures fail, it will be because of the greedy PERS members. In short, the house will win no matter what. Heads they win, tails they win. We lose no matter what. I don't like those odds.