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Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Heartache For Everyone

Our favorite bird-cage liner, the Whoregonian is mining its readers for ideas on how to cut the budget for the 2011-13 biennium.  They posted a half-assed poll yesterday asking readers to vote for their top five choices for cuts or budget enhancements for the next Legislative session.  Among the choices were diverting some portion of the gas tax to support state police, a 5% sales tax, ending the corporate kicker.  But more significantly they had some delicious (not) ideas for state employees - across the board pay cuts of 10%, and eliminating the 6% pickup.  When I checked yesterday, about 4000 people had voted and a large percentage of voters had listed the two anti-public employee cuts among their top 5 choices.  Since the paper is not doing this for enlightened self-interest, they are undoubtedly going to hand off this poll to legislators and gubernatorial candidates to take to Salem to consider in the next legislative session.

This next legislative session promises to be brutal on public employees.  Keep that in mind when you consider who to vote for in the upcoming general election.


Saturday, September 04, 2010

The Laws Have Changed

I now have enough information from independent sources to reconstruct pretty much both hearings last Thursday on the Arken and Robinson cases.  Because of the surprise change in length of the hearings, many were surprised and somewhat unprepared for the quadrupling of the hearing time for each case.  That is why it has been somewhat difficult to cobble together accurate notes.  I am collating the notes now and will be back later to offer a summary graciously supplied from four different people in attendance at the meetings.  Not all attendees were civilians.  At least one is a member of one of the legal teams in attendance.  The notes are fairly consistent so I feel that collectively my sources have provided accurate summaries of what turned out to be very fast moving questions and answers.

Check back here later today for more details.  I won't write a separate post.  I'll just amend this post.


Life has a way of interfering with my writing.  Labor Day weekend proved to busier than I expected.  I didn't have time to put together the summary of the hearings on Thursday.  Do not despair.  I *will* get them written up and posted; just not as quickly as I had expected.

Friday, September 03, 2010

I Should Have Known It

Yesterday, the Oregon Court of Appeals took oral arguments in both the Arken and Robinson cases.  As originally billed, the arguments were to be 15 minutes for each case, to be heard sequentlally.  I decided that going down to Salem for a 15 minute oral in each case was hardly worth the gas and parking and so committed to other plans for yesterday, which left me carless for most of the morning.  About 8:40 a.m., 20 minutes before the cases were scheduled to be heard, I got a voicemail from my dear friend PEG, who lives much closer than I to the court, that they had changed the oral arguments from 15 minutes to 30 minutes and then to 60 minutes for each case.  Had I known this about 45 minutes earlier, I could have managed to get to Salem in time for at least one of the cases, if not both of them.  As it turned out, I could get to neither, and PEG's schedule did not permit her to stay for the entire Robinson argument.

The upshot of this is that I have very little information to report on either hearing until one of the other sources present offers up his/her reactions and notes (if any) on the proceedings.  I do know that the questioning in Arken was very brisk, the court was fully engaged, and seemed to have managed to do its homework and had a far better grasp of the nuances and complexities of the Arken case than Judge Kantor seemed to have of the case.  That said, there are no contemporaneous notes of the hearing (at least not now).  All that exists are PEG's reactions to the judges' questioning during the hearing.  She reported that the judges directed far more of their questions at Greg Hartman than to the PERS/State attorneys.  PEG felt that the questions were designed, at least partly, at getting to the human cost of the decisions.  This seems to be the first time that the actual retirees affected by the various interpretations of the settlement agreement and the Lipscomb decision, as well as pieces of HB 2003, were actually viewed in human terms, not just legal terms.  Whether this means that the Court is leaning more towards overturning Kantor or not remains to be seen.  As PEG and I would both agree based on sitting in on dozens of these legal proceedings is that there is hardly any relationship between the questions asked, who they're asked of, and the final decision.

It actually matters little in the end anyway.  These cases will not be decided by the Oregon Court of Appeals.  They will render a verdict and whichever party loses will appeal the decision(s) to the Oregon Supreme Court.  This will not be over until the Supreme Court decides.  If retirees win, expect PERS to drag its feet until another law suit forces them into moving (as is what happened in the Hughes decision in 1991, which wasn't implemented until two legislative sessions later).  On the other hand, if the retirees lose, especially the Robinson case, you can expect PERS to proceed to collections with lightening speed.  PERS moves fast if they are getting money; they move with glacial speed if they have to return some.

As I have predicted many times before, we won't have a final set of verdicts in these cases until 2012, at the earliest.  It may take some additional time if we actually win Arken.  If we win Robinson it will merely preserve the status quo except for a very small number of people who will have a large debt wiped away and their monthly payments go up by some small or slightly larger amount to adjust for repayments they've already made.

Another small step has now been taken in the speedy (not!) process of justice.  These cases involve acts from 2003 and 2004 and 2006.  Who says justice is slow?  Isn't 8 or 9 years pretty normal for a case to run its course?

Enjoy your Labor Day weekend.  Hopefully will have a nice bout of weather for us to enjoy the outside a few more times before the rains return.