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Wednesday, February 29, 2012

A Thousand Kisses Deep

This blog is going on 9 years old.  In that time we've covered a lot of ground and antagonized a lot of people.  That's OK; that's its purpose.  We are approaching a major milestone and I wanted to use this opportunity to send my valentines and kisses to all those who have faithfully read this site in hopes of gaining some insight into the labyrinthine ways of PERS and the Legislature.  Sometime in early March, we will cross the 1,000,000th visitor mark.  No blog can survive without eyes.  Yours have been the reason I keep going.  While I've threatened to let go soon, there is some magical draw to keep writing.  Maybe it is the thousand ways the legislature, the politicians, and the media find to continue to gang up on all public employees and retirees.  I just can't help myself; we did our part of the bargain.  We worked our collective asses off for, in many instances, sub-standard wages with the promise that the state (or local government or school district) would make up our inequities in retirement.  So, now here we are in retirement, and the assault never stops.  It is relentless and I'm quite bored with it all.  We PERS retirees are taking nothing we weren't promised.  Nobody gamed the system.  The system is ungameable.  So, all those people out there who think we have somehow collected more than we earned need to go back and do some collective reading.  I started working for Oregon in 1970.  I've looked over every contract I got from the Oregon University System.  No matter how I slice and dice the contracts, I seem to be getting exactly what they promised me - not a penny more, not a penny less.  I frankly think that all those people who want to rob me of benefits I've lawfully earned need to take a deep look inside themselves.  Would you willingly submit to the financial colonoscopy that we've all be subjected to?  Probably not.  So, you'll probably not be surprised when I say to them that they can just go "F*ck off" and leave me alone.  In the meantime, for the rest of you out there, I will keep writing this blog until I no longer see it is necessary to defend what I've (and you've) earned.

In the meantime, I want to thank all of you out there who make this blog a regular part of your web day.  If you want to help support the efforts here - this blog isn't cost-free - you can either donate through the link at the top, or purchase stuff through Amazon.  It won't cost you a dime extra and the small commission Amazon pays me helps pay for the cost of running the extra servers needed for uninterrupted access, software needed to keep the  blog current, and bandwidth required (Comcast and Century Link are not charities).

I'm trying to figure out a way to have balloons and fireworks go off once we hit the 1,000,000 mark.  If I figure it out, you'll be able to see it here.  Thanks again.



Thursday, February 23, 2012

El Corrido de Jesse James

Just when you thought it was safe to relax for a few months over possible changes to PERS, the group of 14 robbers in the Oregon Senate have come up with the latest attempt to perform a financial colonoscopy on those Tier 1 members still in the system and Tier 2 members getting close to retirement.  All 14 Republicans in the Oregon Senate have pooled their collective IQ to come up with SB1593.  This bill, if enacted would instantly change the actuarially assumed interest rate used for determining benefits at retirement from 8% to 6% and would reduce benefit payouts for those retiring on or after July 1, 2013 (note the date, it isn't a typo) by about 25%. Disregarding the likelihood of this bill passing and getting through the Supreme Court, note that there are somewhere between 20,000 and 40,000 current Tier 1 members who are both age and/or service eligible to retire now.  If all decided they didn't want to hang around to find out whether this bill passes or not, survives inevitable legal challenges or not, they could really mess with PERS.  Not only does PERS not have the capacity to deal with that vast number of retirements in a short period of time, removing that much money from the system into the BIF would probably destabilize PERS.

If you take the time to read this bill you'll find that it is both simplistic and simple minded.  The actuarially assumed interest rate for retirement benefits does not exist in a vacuum.  It is tied to the actuarially assumed interest rate used to set employer contribution rates; it is tied to the actuarially assumed interest rate used to credit Tier 1 member accounts with the "guarantee"; and finally, the actuarially assumed interest rates are used to determine the mortality table conversion factors that are used to generate benefits at retirement.  These rates are all coupled.  The actuaries determine the rate using the best evidence they have in complete knowledge of the way this single number interacts with the three component parts of the system.  I'm not sure whether it is possible to arbitrarily change the actuarially assumed rate for one part of the system independent of the other parts of the system.  That's the nature of the coupling.  SB1593 makes no mention of the statutes that cover the assumed rate and appear to amend no existing statute of any kind.  It seems to be a blunt force attempt to just uncouple the rates without bothering to mention that they are all interconnected.

If my counting is right, there are about 12 days left in this legislative session.  In order for this bill to pass, it has to get at least two democrats to agree to the bill in the Senate, and then it has to pass in the House, be reconciled if there are any differences of opinion in the House, and then has to be signed by the Governor.  I doubt that there is enough time for this to happen, but if it should make it to the Governor, I don't think our current Governor is afraid to say NO (at least I hope he isn't).

But, I don't think the intent is to pass the bill this session. I think the bill is an attempt to telegraph to eligible PERS members that it WILL be part of a major attempt at PERS reform during the longer 2013 session.  I'm not sure if they are trying to get most of the eligible to just commit and retire, or whether they are trying to see how stiff the headwinds will be for such a bill.  This is a very targeted attempt at a change that affects a modest number of PERS members who are eligible for retirement but haven't made the move.  I don't know how much they expect such a bill will save - it will be nothing if all the eligibles retire before the deadline - and I don't know if they really have any grasp of how all the parts of PERS interact.

Glad to meet all the Jesse James impostors of the world.  This crew definitely deserves some sort of award for sheer chutzpah.

If it affects you, I'd start by writing to your own Senator.  Then you might write to Senator Peter Courtney inquiring why this bill gets a hearing when HB 4033 was declared dead by Courtney before it was even heard in the House.


Friday, February 17, 2012

Money For Nothing

The official Bureau of Labor Statistics inflation rate for 2011 was published yesterday.  For the Portland-Salem area, the figures PERS uses for its COLA calculations, the 2011 rate of inflation was 2.86%  This means that for everyone retired by July 1, 2012, the August 1st PERS payment will go up by the statutory maximum of 2%, with 0.86% added to each individual's "COLA Bank".

For those members still on the hook for repaying the "overpaid" benefits during the 2000 - 2004 retirement period, the COLA will probably be used to disguise the fact that repayments will begin at the same time the COLA is paid.  Those opting for the "actuarial reduction" method of repayment will get little to no benefit from this COLA as it will probably be given with one hand and taken away with the other.  This truly meets the description of "money for nothing".

Thursday, February 02, 2012

When The Whip Comes Down

Peter Courtney, President of the Oregon Senate, has decreed that HB 4033 will not get heard during this legislative session.  HB 4033 is an OPRI-sponsored and supported bill that would stop PERS from releasing the names along with the information about retirement benefits in the future.  The media (principally the Oregonian and the Statesman Journal) are exerting tremendous pressure on the Legislature over this bill, and it appears that Peter Courtney is not willing to have the bill heard unless he has overwhelming bipartisan support to withstand the onslaught of the newspapers' lobbying and bully pulpit.  I'm hardly surprised by these tactics; I fully expected them.

At this point, I don't know how much help it will be to flood Senator Courtney's office with letters, but I think it wouldn't hurt.  I would also cc my own legislators (House and Senate) to dial up the pressure.  At the very least, the Legislature needs to know that constituents view this as a high priority.  Please make it clear that you are NOT opposed to the information release; you are ONLY opposed to attaching names to the individual pieces of information.

We should not allow one person to determine the fate of more than 100,000 individuals who've already been exposed needlessly by the Oregonian and the Statesman Journal.