The 3-day feeding frenzy that is the opening organizing session of the Legislature has just ended. The boys and girls of Camp Silly will convene again on February 1 to begin the daunting task of winnowing through almost 1700 bills introduced this session. Some might call this the "full employment act for lawyers, lobbyists, and legislative counsels". Of the 1700 bills, twenty three (23) are related to PERS, although I think 2 of the 23 are not PERS bills at all. The bad news is that these bills touch every category of PERS member including current retirees. Bills affecting retirees all pertain to the COLA. One eliminates the "COLA banking" provision, one limits the "COLA" to members with 10 years of creditable service (not applicable to current retirees), and one limits the COLA to the first $2000 per month of benefits. There are three different bills that cover the same topic, namely to eliminate the income tax subsidy provided to retirees who do not live in the State of Oregon. All these bills will be challenged by OPRI and, presumably, the PERS Coalition. The remaining bills deal with active members. Two seem to do with the OPSRP program, one renaming it officially to Tier 3, and another terminating the OPSRP for newly hired employees who become eligible for PERS on or after July 1, 2011 (a Tier 4, if you will). For active employees, there are two classes of obnoxious bills. The first eliminates the 6% pickup, and various forms of this bill make it either impossible for employees to contribute on their own, or impossible to contribute at all. The second class of bills reduce significantly what is included in calculating the Final Average Salary (FAS). One eliminates overtime in excess of the average for employment category; another eliminates the use of sick leave and vacation time. Finally, the most obnoxious bill in this category would limit the PERS benefit to no more than 100% of this redefined FAS. Several bills redefine who can and can't work for a PERS employer after retirement, and one bill directs PEBB to offer high deductible plans and HSA, and another changes how PEBB deals with spouses who are both public employees. The final insult is a bill that would neuter the most important elements of SB 897, passed in 2010, and hold PERS harmless for errors made by employers in reporting service and related matters to PERS during the verification process. This is an insult to all those who worked hard to secure passage of SB 897 over the Governor's veto. Ironically, the revision was introduced at the request of our new Governor.
The good news (if there is any) is that the Legislature chose NOT to micromanage PERS. This means that issues pertaining to actuarial tables, assumed rates, and the rate guarantee are nowhere to be found in this set of bills. This doesn't mean these won't appear, but at this point it is highly unlikely. These are functions that are assigned to the PERS Board and PERS Staff, and these considerations will be taken up in due course at PERS Board meetings and through public hearings, if they are taken up at all.
Collectively, these bills will take a lot of effort to lobby and to defeat. For active members, the PERS Coalition and each of the unions will be working hard on your behalf. For retirees, OPRI and its lobbyist(s) will be defending our benefits at the Legislature. If you go to my newsgroup (see PERS OREGON DISCUSSION) at left, join the group, you can see the summary of all of these bills by number, and participate in the discussion. It is really important to join the group, not just read the messages. Strength comes in numbers and the more we have, the louder our voice will be. In the meantime, OPRI will be meeting on Monday Jan 17, 2011 to discuss these bills and to decide how to prioritize their lobbying effort. Please make your opinions known on PERS OREGON DISCUSSION before Monday so that you and have a voice in what OPRI chooses to work on. You can also send contributions (MAY BE TAX DEDUCTIBLE) to OPRI's PAC, which pays for lobbying expenses in the Legislature. You can find information http://opri.org.