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Sunday, October 21, 2012

Hang Loose

Very tittle is happening in the world of PERS these days.  The election is just two weeks away and many elements of the PERS agenda will be established after we know who will control the Oregon House and the Oregon Senate.  If the Democrats take both houses, the PERS bills are likely to be less draconian than if the Republicans control the Legislature.  Dr. No is still Governor and so a veto of any anti-PERS bill is still possible.  On balance I expect a number of major PERS bills to be introduced into the Legislature but have no idea which will pass and which will not see the light of day.  I'm hard at work gathering information, but I am not in a position to report anything because the election will determine many things about the likelihood of major PERS reform.  There WILL be a change to the assumed rate decided during 2013 for implementation on January 1, 2014.  Both employers and PERS members are likely to oppose this change since it will mean higher employer rates and lower employee benefits.  However, PERS has some latitude to reduce the employer impact, while still socking it to members on the verge of retirement.  The Legislature convenes in late January, with the first bills likely to be passed in late March or early April.  The courts have consistently ruled that the Legislature cannot change PERS retroactively, but the definition of retroactivity has not be firmly defined.

Right now, I am far away from Portland and do not expect to be back until the early part of November, before the elections.  Although I continue to get information, I'm not in a place where it is simple for me to just pick up the phone and gab with people about the perceived impact any particular action might have.

Please stay tuned as once the election is over, the serious business of figuring out what the Legislature might have planned for PERS will become clearer.  The 2013 session is likely to be as volatile as 2003, but the courts have made the boundaries of legislative action more marked.  In actuality, there aren't many bad things that can happen to people on the contingent edge of retiring.  Even a reduction in the assumed rate will have little impact on members retiring through 2013.  But there are other changes that will have direr consequences for members further away from retirement, and several changes that *could* have a significant impact on members already retired.  This is where the definition of "retroactive" becomes crucial and will be, most likely, up to the courts to determine.  The Legislature has an unfortunatete habit of shooting first and worrying about the consequences later.  Happily, if this occurs, every legislative bill on PErS has a clause that directs resolution immediately to the Oregon Supreme Court.  This means that the time between a law passing and the law's legality being determined is typically two years or less.  There are no civil actions extant, and so any litigation that arises to PERS will be of the sort that goes directly to the OSC for immediate resolution.

My advice to those anxious about this is to hang loose until after the election.  You can help the situation out by voting against any candidate twho has expressed any negative opinion of PERS.  If you don't know about your own legislator, write the candidates and ask them their position on PERS.  Most will answer honestly, or at least in a way that clues you in to how they might vote on prospective PERS legislation.  Support those candidates with established records on PERS issues or those who have taken a stand that indicates that they would be inclined to give some leeway to PERS members.  If not, then any negative results are on you, not me.

Keep your eyes and ears open, and seek information wherever you can.  The vote you use may be to your benefit if exercised properly.  I'll be back after the election to handicap the outcome of certain likely PERS bills to appear before the Legislature.