Now that the end is nigh for the latest dustup in Salem (next week sometime), PERS members have escaped another session without any further attempts to lower future PERS benefits. But, this is probably not cause for any celebration. Unfortunately, the mad-at-PERS set will almost certainly set their sights on either the November ballot box, or next February’s long (6 month) session. Insofar as November is concerned, I’ve heard rumors of at least two ballot initiatives being developed to take the PERS matter out of the Legislature’s hands. Those are usually very blunt instruments that rarely survive court challenges, but PERS would be obligated to enforce any changes until the Supreme Court rules on their outcome in 2019 or so. The second route would be the Legislative route. You can be sure that the Bend Republicans will fine-tune their 2016 “screw all PERS members” bill and reintroduce it in 2017. And there are probably another half dozen “legislative concepts” floating around for 2017. Eventually, those will be revealed, as they will require PERS input to evaluate their potential financial impacts.
While what I write isn’t much of a surprise to those who keep track of the attempts to alter PERS benefits, the vast majority of PERS members (not retirees) are oblivious to much of this background, yet they will be the ones to suffer the most drastic impacts should any of these succeed. The Moro court pretty much slammed the door (unanimously) on any changes to benefits of those already retired, so unless I’m completely misreading the tea leaves, rumors, innuendo, and reliable sources of information, there is nothing out there that could potentially harm the already-retired. All that said, I want to reiterate a point I’ve made over and over. In Oregon, ELECTIONS MATTER. Who we choose as Governor, members of the judiciary, DOJ, and members of the Legislature make a huge difference in the fate of PERS bills. Right now, the Ds have a commanding majority in all levels of Government in Oregon. I advocate for no candidate and no party, but reiterate that ELECTIONS MATTER. Pay close attention to who is running. Make an effort to go to the various town halls, arrange one-on-one with candidates, especially the ones who have no record on PERS support or opposition. Do not depend on lobbyists or labor to do the heavy lifting. I’ve found that personal contact makes a huge difference. Personalize your story, what impact changes will have on you and your family, remind the candidates how many voters are in your family. Make them hear your story and remind them that 99% of PERS members are ordinary, hard working citizens who have counted on the promised benefits to support them in their retirement. Also educate them that not one element of the PERS benefits has been under your control, but that your decision to work or leave depends largely on the promised benefits. Take them away, or alter them negatively, and your incentive to continue to do your hard, necessary job might vanish.
Finally, for those who just read conclusions, my primary point is ELECTIONS MATTER. Pay attention and vote in November’s election. It also might help to influence outcomes by voting in the May primary.