The mailbag overflows with questions from worried PERS members wanting to know how to time their retirement to miss anything the legislature might do. There is no simple answer to this question. If you weren't planning to retire now, thinking about it as a way to avoid what the Legislature might do is just plain silly. If you aren't READY to retire, you shouldn't give up your job and retire just to protect some benefits you might get. The Legislature is in its third week and not a single PERS bill has been scheduled for a hearing. This leads another group of members to wonder whether they should worry at all. Also the wrong answer. Just because bills haven't been heard yet doesn't mean they won't be heard. It is true that a fair number of the 23 PERS bills are off in the danger zone of potential contractual violations. The House leadership has made it clear that they want NO bills on PERS to pass that will be undone by the Oregon Supreme Court. That doesn't leave very many bills to pass that avoid that potential fate.
What to do? Let me go back to my principle that if you weren't already planning to retire this year, then you shouldn't be thinking about retiring this year. You aren't ready and you won't like retirement because you'll be worrying about all the money you aren't making by working. If you were already planning to retire in 2011 anyway, then timing might be an issue. Since a few of the bills, especially those pertaining to the retiree COLA, are presented currently as applying to both new and pre-existing retirees, you don't gain anything by retiring early. Bills that attempt to cap the pension benefit at the Final Average Salary are potentially devastating to some actives on the verge of retiring. If you are in that category and want to be ahead of that prospective change, then getting out before the end of March would be the best plan. This date slips the longer the Legislature doesn't take up such legislation. Bills to eliminate the 6% pickup have little impact on someone retiring later this year. The 6% doesn't make much of a dent in anyone's retirement, yet. So, if you were to lose this, you really aren't risking enough to sacrifice a few extra months of income. But if any of the legislation worries you to the point that you can't sleep at night, AND you were planning to retire anyway, then don't think twice - get out now. You'll be happier, your sleep will improve, and you will avoid the worst of the possible changes. But, if you do get out now, don't come back blaming me for inciting your decision. Remember, I don't give advice. I give information and it is up to people to decide what to do with that information.
On an unrelated note, congratulations to Paul Cleary of PERS. He's one of the lucky Agency Directors who gets to keep his job in the Kitzhaber administation. Maybe I should send a sympathy card instead. It is going to be a tough year to be in charge of PERS and spend those days after days trying to be patient and cheerful while giving good answers to nasty legislators like Dennis Richardson who'd sooner take away his mother's PERS pension than allow us to continue to survive on ours. Good luck Paul.