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Sunday, September 25, 2011

Midnight in the City of Destruction

Just sitting around contemplating the potential end of summer.  I've received a number of thoughtful emails about the impending release of retirees' names and monthly benefit amounts.  These emails provoke some interesting notions.  I thought I'd run a few up the flagpole and see what holds.  Bear in mind that these aren't all my thoughts, but are the thoughts of some others that I've shamelessly borrowed because they deserve an airing.

  • There are three cases awaiting final rulings before the Oregon Supreme Court.  These are Arken, Robinson, and White.  Decisions should be forthcoming in all these cases sometime before the end of the year, and there is no reason to expect that they might not come down in the next few weeks.  [This is a statement of fact.  Implications and questions follow]
  • Assuming the decisions come down before November, will PERS be able to adjust the benefit levels to reflect the court's judgements and orders?  If the court holds for Arken, Robinson, and White, the benefit levels of retirees affected by those cases would rise.  On the contrary, if the court rules against Arken and White, but upholds Robinson, the current figures are accurate.  If the court rules against Arken, White, and Robinson, all Window retiree benefits will be reduced by the amount necessary for the "overpayment" of benefits based on the 1999 earnings.  Has PERS anticipated how to factor in these variables?
  • The Robinson case holds that the amount still owed by Window retirees can't be collected.  If we lose the Robinson case, will PERS adjust our benefits downward BEFORE reporting to the Oregonian and Statesman Journal.  If not, will they inform both papers that all Window retirees have a significant debt to repay?
  • Similarly, if the decisions don't come down before the first release of information, but come down before the second release, will PERS update the first set of information and inform the papers that they (they papers) are using incorrect information?  Similarly, will they adjust the benefits upward if we win the lottery between the first and second information dumps?
  • Are the newspapers getting only the information on individuals receiving a monthly benefit, or will the information on single and double lump-sum also be released.
  • Which benefit amount will be released?  The Option 1 benefit, or the actual benefit, which includes survivor options (in most cases)?


These are just a few of the questions that wander through my mailbox and through the corridors of my brain.  There are so many wildcards out there that I am completely baffled how PERS and the newspapers can expect the information to be completely accurate and up-to-date.  I expect the whole release process to be a cluster f**k for retirees as no matter what PERS releases, it is likely to be partially or totally inaccurate.  I don't understand why the parties couldn't wait for the court cases now pending before the OSC to be finally decided and the rulings implemented.


Unknown said...

Please help us recall whether PERS previous action in reducing our monthly payments via freezing our cola increases didnt wipe out monies (overpayment) owed for those receiving current PERS payments. Or was that action taken to obviate any further future adjustments? I thought the only thing hanging on these court cases was whether PERS previous action at COLA reductions had to be "repaid" to receipants? I didnt think there would be additional paybacks ordered? I confess I am a bit confused. As for the accuracy of the data released, I dont believe the forces behind these requests really dont give a damn about accuracy. Their agenda is to show that PERS members who retired have somehow "enriched" themselves beyond what they consider is fair to the rest of the great unwashed public. To redicule, cast despersions and tear down public employee benefits and rights is their REAl agenda!

Unknown said...

If the court rules against Arken, White, and Robinson, all Window retiree benefits will be reduced by the amount necessary for the "overpayment" of benefits based on the 1999 earnings. Has PERS anticipated how to factor in these variables?

What are the implications for myself. I retired effective 28 Feb 1999. What is meant by the window retiree benefits??

mrfearless47 said...

The "Window" retirees are those who retired between April 1, 2000 and April 1, 2004. These are the people who received 20% crediting for 1999, and who continued to receive benefits based on the 1999 crediting until 2006 when the benefits were adjusted to reflect the 11.33% rate. The adjustment was on a going forward basis. The outstanding balance is principally for the period between the awarding of 20% and the date of retirement, less any monies held back from the "COLA" freeze which, if you recall, didn't really last all that long. For me, the amount owed and due to be repaid if we lose Robinson is $14,500.

The Arken case addresses the illegal withholding of the COLA and a number of other issues.

The Robinson case addresses PERS' right to collect "overpayments" via any means except administrative expenses.

The White case challenges the legality and fiduciary issues behind the settlement agreement on the City of Eugene case.

All three of those cases have enormous impacts if we win them. Losing Arken changes nothing about the status quo. Losing White changes nothing about the status quo. Losing Robinson means that PERS gets to collect money window retirees and a few others still owe from 1999. If we won all the cases, retirees who retired anytime after April 2000 would be owed some serious coin, although I'm not sure what the proper story would be if we won only the White case. If the settlement agreement were invalidated, then I think we are off the hook anyway, but the court sometimes chooses to rule quite narrowly.

Larry said...

I just read an article in the LA Times where the papers in Calif. won a similar suit re: making retiree info. public. The LA County Sheriffs Association filed a suit trying to block information due to potential safety issues to retired officers and undercover detectives. It is pending.....

Anonymous said...

I am interested in how the fact that some University faculty decided to use TIAA/CREF as their retirement fund would be viewed by the court. Will their retirement benefits provided by TIAA/CREF also be subject to public exposure? If not, doesn't the effort of the papers amount to differentially treating one group of former state employees as compared to another?

I thought that it was the employee's former employment that made them open to publication of their benefit, but failure to also publish the TIAA/CREF benefits would surely be differential treatment. Is that fair and legal?

Is it just those who decided to use PERS who are open to publication?

mrfearless47 said...

The OUS Optional Retirement plan doesn't come under this scrutiny. Since it is a 401-K type plan and it is owned lock, stock, and barrel by the retiree, the only portion that would be made public is the portion of the benefit funded by PERS. The Oregonian and the Statesman Journal have no access to the TIAA/CREF funds (that would take a federal subpoena), or to the deferred comp plans offered by Fidelity, Vanguard, Twentieth Century or whatever else was added after I left.

mpguy said...

It seems as though the "justice system" (I say laughingly) knows that we should win the White case (I think that's the one involving the 8.3% benefits reduction), but can't afford the consequences of that decision.

The strategy seems to have been to simply delay the decision until it's economically and politically untenable for us to prevail. Marc, doesn't it seem to you like, even if we win, we won't get anything out of the decision?

John 2031 said...

Hasn't the PERS board kept a considerable reserve fund in case they lose these lawsuits?

mrfearless47 said...

The PERS Fund has multiple reserve accounts funded to a greater or lesser extent. However, there is no specific reserve set aside for any of the litigation currently awaiting decision by the Oregon Supreme Court. If they lose Robinson, which they've already done in the lower courts, they just don't get to collect money they say WE owe. They don't have that money on their balance sheet now. The other cases will probably force the Coalition to get some legislative action to get funded. There is no way that if we win PERS is just going to write us checks. I would expect it to be years before we see anything from a win in Arken and/or White. The poverty cry will be a compelling motive to delay paying those victories out in the unlikely event they occur.

Unknown said...

I think it was two legislative sessions before the Hughes decision was funded. So Prof, I think you are coorect if the White and Arken cases are decided in coalition's favor, I wouldnt be running out to buy that new fur coat!

mrfearless47 said...

I suppose that one could argue that the "Contingency Reserve" is something that could be used to cover the losses in Arken and/or White. I have to confess that I'm not optimistic about the fate of those two cases. Robinson is a stronger case all around and I think the best we can expect is for the status quo not to change.