A bit of good news to report. PERS posted the COLA for 2010 today. The CPI for 2010 was 1.25%, which means that anyone who retired prior to 2008 will get a full 2% COLA this August 1. Members who retired after July 1, 2008 and before August 1, 2011 will get 1.25%. Bills to reduce, change, or eliminate elements of the COLA for retirees have made it nowhere so far in 6 weeks of the Legislature. It is reasonable to assert that if we haven't seen any action by early April that the combination of the Governor and the divided leadership in the Oregon House will have scuttled any attempt to further "reform" PERS.
Do not be seduced into complacency by this news. There are still two places where change can occur outside of the Legislature. First, collective bargaining discussions have just gotten underway. The Governor has proposed that the unions agree to having members pay up to 15% of their health insurance costs, while also contributing 6% to their PERS IAP plan. I don't think it likely that the unions will agree to exactly this, the unions understand that they will have to entertain and accept some givebacks this year to help Oregon through the current fiscal crisis. The second place is PERS itself. This is the year that the PERS Board will revisit the actuarial assumptions that underlie the PERS plans. At issue will be the "assumed interest rate". There is considerable pressure to reduce the assumed rate from 8% to something lower. Do understand that neither the employers nor the employees want this to happen. In the employers case lowering the assumed rate means that employer contributions will increase, while lowering the rate for employees means both lower guaranteed earnings for Tier 1 members and also lower pension benefits for all members. Both the negotiations and the considerations by the PERS Board will take place publicly and in full daylight. Members will have an opportunity to testify in any hearings regarding the assumed rate before PERS Board, while members will be polled extensively on terms of the Union contracts.
The good news in all of this is that we are unlikely to see a situation like exists in Wisconsin. Fortunately for Oregon and for Public Employees, the unions play an important role in developing and electing political leaders and they, in turn, don't want to alienate one of their clear bases of support. Governor Kitzhaber told the unions this to their face earlier this week
So the little lambs roar as spring comes in. Hopefully we won't see them slaughtered as Spring gives way to Summer.