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Friday, February 26, 2010

Holy Flames of the Firespitter

Previously here, we've discussed Phil Keisling's self-appointed role as a spokesman for PERS reform. We've also discussed the flaws in Mr. Keisling's various proposals as they have sifted their way through the various levels of revision. Today, I want to direct your attention to Greg Hartman's analysis of Keisling's most recent proposal. Like my own analyses, Hartman's does not attempt to address the full scope of what Mr. Keisling says. Much of it is an historical recitation of PERS, which requires little conjecture or refutation. The rest, however, the remedies and etc, are the target of Mr. Hartman's response. You can read the Hartman answer to Keisling here.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Long Hard Road

The Oregon Court of Appeals has decided to reschedule the Arken case hearings to an unknown date in the future. At the same time, the court wisely decided to include the Robinson case for hearing simultaneously. As we know, the legal system moves at the speed of a glacier and these two cases seem to be in an interstadial whereupon they aren't moving at all. Eventually, these cases will be heard and decided by the Appellate branch, but we all know that this is just a brief hiatus before the big act before the Oregon Supreme Court. I'm still holding on my prediction of 2012 (or 2013) for final resolution of these cases. That would make the matter about 10 years to get through the entire legal system. Not bad for cases that were supposed to be "fast-tracked". It's a long hard road to get from here to there. Hopefully we will ALL still be alive to realize any benefits from these cases (note the optimism).

Monday, February 08, 2010


The pissing match between feckless Governor Ted and the Legislature over SB 897 is finally OVER. Today, following Friday's unanimous vote to override Governor K's veto of SB 897 in the Senate, the Oregon House voted 44-15 to override. As of around noon today, SB 897 is now LAW - the Governor be damned.

SB 897 forces PERS to establish mechanisms to ensure Quality Control on all retirement estimates beginning two years before the earliest retirement date. It requires verification of service time at all PERS employers, verification of age, beneficiary, account balances (and requires PERS to collect from employers derilect in paying employee and employer contributions, and effectively insures that when an individual puts in a retirement application, ALL the information used has been audited. Done properly and with care, there should be NO MISTAKES when someone starts receiving his/her first benefit check. The bill puts PERS on the same playing field as the Oregon Department of Revenue. Once a return (application) has been audited and closed, whatever mistakes (if any) are owned by the agency, not the individual.

This is, by no means, a land-grab by PERS members as some have claimed. PERS has until July 1, 2011 to put mechanisms in place to accomplish the audit, and with their new super-duper jClarety software package, they ought to be able to insure the accuracy of benefits to the point where people can finally stop worrying about a PERS "dropping shoe" about two or three years after retiring. This was the essence of the Kay Bell case in which PERS denied errors during Kay's working life and then suddenly found them after she retired.

I am proud of Kay for standing up through all this publicity, the trials, and the excursions through just about every aspect of her life. I'm proud that our jury system works and that Kay won punitive damages (yet to be collected) from PERS. And I'm proud of our Legislature, which had the collective wisdom to pass SB 897 in the first place, and the tenacity to stick it into the Governor's dark places when he vetoed a unaminously passed bill. I am also proud of OPRI for actively working on passing SB 897.

And to all the PERS critics out there who will see this as the beginning of a further falling of the sky, read the damn bill before bothering to criticize. It hands out nothing to anyone and grants public employees rights that you all already have. Take a chill pill and relax. The sea is not roiling, the sky is not falling, and armaggedon is not close.

Thursday, February 04, 2010

Ring Them Chimes

Hallelujah! According to an email I received today from Senator Richard Devlin's office, both the House and the Senate voted unanimously to override the Governor's veto of SB 897, which passed unanimously in the 2009 legislative session. This is a major slap in Governor Kulongoski's face and an equally hard bolt upside the heads of the PERS, both of which actively opposed this measure. Now, PERS will have to take ownership of the auditing process and members will (starting on July 1, 2011) get benefit estimates and Notices of Entitlement that will actually be accurate. If PERS screws up after all the auditing, they will have to eat the costs.

This is a victory for OPRI, for PERS retirees in general, for upcoming retirees, and for Kay Bell, in particular. I stand in awe of Kay Bell for having the tenacity to keep fighting for her rights against the wall of ignorance that can sometimes be found inside PERS and in the Governor's office. I toast you Kay. I will buy you dinner sometime soon. Thanks again.

CORRECTION (9 p.m.): only the Senate voted today to override SB 897. The Oregon House will vote on Monday. If you haven't written your House Representative, now would be a good time. I think the confusion arose because the Senate voted to override TWO of the Governor's vetoes. The syntax of the response I received made no mention of the second veto. Nevertheless, I strongly believe that the House will also override this veto as well.