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Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Bagpipes from Baghdad

In a surprising move, Elizabeth Hovde, the new resident conservative at the local Portland paper has published a followup to her partial hit piece linking PERS and Measures 66 and 67. Surprised by the more than 100 comments she received at Oregonlive.com she tries to set the record straight on the blog. Basically, she admits that she didn't expect the flack from PERS members and retirees and she didn't mean to 'dis public employees. She essentially apologized and then cited her sources for much of the information she provided in the original piece. Not surprisingly, she doesn't back down on much but relies on slippery semantics to try to qualify her answers. It is true that she didn't say "all" public employees get fully-paid medical care, but then cites the numbers who do. She acknowledges my point about the diminishing numbers of Tier 1 members subject to the rate guarantee, but then says she hasn't verified my numbers. At least she admits they "might" be right.

In the end she accepts that Tier 1 members and retirees are probably safe from any further changes to the system, citing the court decisions that have made this abundantly clear. But she argues that the unions and the members are going to have to sit down with management and negotiate out of the current mess (which is?) so that the system will be sustainable for all.

More entertaining are the responses to Hovde. One PERS retiree is having a field day tweaking all the conservatives and others by raving about his benefits and how much he is enjoying retirement life. While I understand the principle, deliberately flaunting this in peoples' faces is probably not a strategy I would use. It is sufficient to make the point that the benefits were earned fairly and squarely by hard work and under a unilateral contract. Beyond that, lavishing attention on the benefits in retirement is like poking sticks in people's eyes. I think it is counterproductive to our cause. The more attention we draw to ourselves by writing these kinds of inflammatory responses, the worse off we'll be. Some may think I'm being hypocritical as I am the most prominent defender of PERS benefits in the state. Nevertheless, if you go back and read my posts you'll see that I've been careful not to expose my benefits to people on a public blog. I'm very happy with my benefits, but that's as much as I'm going to say about them.

On an unrelated topic, the PERS Board and the Oregon Investment Council will be having a joint meeting in late January (the 29th) beginning at noon. This will be preceded by a conference meeting on January 27th. The topic of discussion will be employer rates for the next biennium in light of PERS' returns for 2009. The semi-official returns through November 30, 2009 were 15.5% and with December's runup, the final year's earnings ought to be pretty good. California's PERS ended up with an 11+% gain for CY 2009, which helps their bottom line tremendously. I think the 2009 returns may help mitigate the size of the employers' rates for 2011-2013, although there will be no way for the employers to completely avoid the 2008 hit. You can run, but you can't hide.

I close with my personal thanks to PERS for helping a friend in need. I can't tell you how much it means for people to know that PERS is actually going out of their way to help a family whose situation is, to say the least, quite dire. I do this for friends; I do this for total strangers. If you are frustrated with your dealings with PERS and can't seem to get anyone to listen, please let me know. I do have contacts and I'm not afraid to use them.

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