This post is not likely to make very many people happy with me. But, I have to say that after watching yesterday’s public hearing on SB 560, I can say that PERS members (except two) did themselves in. They allowed themselves to become victims by total apathy and disinterest. The blame is shared with others, but I reserve most of my scorn for the members who will be directly affected by anything and everything in SB 560, in whatever form it becomes law — and it WILL become law, mark my words. Only two active members testified yesterday. Both were Tier 1 Money Match on-the-edge of retirement. Both commented about the harm from the annuity rate reductions and made vague references to its timing from the dash-3 amendment and the dash-10, without either actually pointing out the language of the bill that is precipitating their angst. (we’ll come back to this point in a minute). There should have been 5, 10, or 20 people signed up to testify, and the room should have been packed with affected members. Neither happened. Inside the room, which was anything but full, were about 2/3 professional lobbyists, and the remaining third a mixed bag of people who may or may not have been affected by any of this legislation. SEIU testified, and basically sold members down the river by urging the committee to move the dash-10 amendment forward. League of Oregon Cities testified urging moving the dash-10 amendment forward. AFSCME didn’t testify and may not have even had a rep in the room; OPRI was nowhere in evidence either. The PERS Coalition certainly didn’t testify and I didn’t recognize the backs of any of their reps heads. OEA was absent from testimony, OSPOA was absent, the Firefighters were absent. In short, the testimony was insipid, basically useless, and certainly ineffective.
The one issue raised during discussion was the presence of the “emergency clauses”, and the committee agreed that “…it didn’t want to precipitate a crisis” and would consider removing the emergency clauses before sending the bills up to Joint Ways and Means on Monday. But, the committee seemed oblivious to the function of the emergency clauses, and unaware that removing them is going to delay the process of resolving these matters before the Supreme Court and prevent the 2019 Legislature from cleaning up after any mess made by all of this (if there is any mess). It was painfully obvious that no member of the Committee had bothered to read the dash-10 amendment, which we learned from commentary was NOT a Tim Knopp-originated bill, but was a product of a group of luminaries called the Oregon Business Council (which counts among its sponsors the four big Universities - UO, PSU, OSU, and OHSU - as well as my wife’s former private employer, and every major large corporation in Oregon). This seemed to lend the dash-10 amendment a caché that brooked no criticism and near awe from members of the Committee and certainly the agencies and Union testimony. (Edit: more than one person has suggested that they detect the fingerprints of former Labor Leader, Kulongoski staffer, Kitzhaber staffer, and Oregonian occasional columnist, Tim Nesbitt on the OBC dash-10 amendment. I have no evidence one way or the other, but it is an interesting rumor about a labor traitor).
All that said, the Committee announced (in effect) that it was throwing up its hands on PERS, that it could come to no consensus on the bills or amendments, and that it would forward both SB 559 and SB 560 and ALL NINE amendments to the Joint Ways and Means Committee with no recommendation. Only Senator Laurie Monnes-Anderson objected to this approach, feeling that the Committee was abdicating its responsibility for recommending policy to Joint Ways and Means - a budget committee that normally does not make policy. This drew agreement from Senators Taylor and Gelser, but no change to strategy. The form of what goes up remains to be seen on Monday. Editorial amendments were promised, like taking out the emergency clauses, but a date with Legislative Counsel may change that when they realize what removing those clauses does to the legislation. Again, they seem completely oblivious to the language pertaining to the decoupling of the assumed rate and the annuitization rate for Money Match retirements (and since dash-3 is still in play, other retirement forms as well if they involve a beneficiary or alternative payee or disability). They seemed to want to provide a date certain (like 1/1/18) for the effective date of the changes and think that removing the emergency clause would do that, but I don’t see it that way unless either the dash-3 amendment is changed significantly, or somebody actually reads the language related to the same issue in the dash-10 amendment. Again, the Committee seems to think the Emergency Clause itself is the issue, but that’s a red herring (read my previous post for an explanation of why the emergency clause is there).
So what makes this darker? First, no effective representation of member interests in the ONLY meeting in which you would have been directly allowed to testify. That signals apathy, and encourages malice (it sends a message of resignation to Legislators that PERS members are resigned to being screwed over some more). Second, a complete abdication by the the Senate Workforce Committee whose function was to recommend policy changes, and it punted to Joint Ways and Means. This empowers Ways and Means to literally do whatever they feel is necessary to make the budget balance, and PERS is a large component of their thinking about ways of balancing the budget. No more likely public hearings; virtually everything in Joint Ways and Means will be done in closed session except possibly final votes or invited testimony. The voice of critics has effectively been silenced, and control has passed from a policy committee that didn’t recommend policy to a budget committee concerned only with budgets but being given the opportunity to choose from a cafeteria menu of many expensive (to members) options without any constraint on committee members. Oh, I encourage you to write to members of the Joint Ways and Means Committee to express your concerns, but I don’t expect those letters, emails, or phone calls to have much impact.
Anything that happens from this point forward will probably come as a surprise to all members. While I had hoped that members would have something specific to target for Ways and Means, the complete refusal of the Senate Workforce Committee to take a principled stand on these measures, and the complete apathy of affected members have left the door open for any and all of the possible concepts introduced in SB 559 and SB 560 (and all its many and varied amendments) to become reality.
Moreover, there seems to be a cavalier attitude among many of either of two views: (1) the Supreme Court will invalidate most or all of these; or (2) I can’t do anything about this because I’m not close enough to retirement to matter; I’m generally screwed. With the possible exception of the $100,000 FAS cap (still there mind you), I see virtually all of the changes meeting the prospective test of the Moro Court. So, depending on what ultimately comes out of Ways and Means, there is a high probability that much will be upheld as meeting the Moro standard of prospective. As for those who say, I’m screwed, let me remind you that the graveyard of history is filled with victims who never raised their voice against the injustices perpetrated again them. I’m not blaming the victim here, yet, but I do have to remind you that there has been an opportunity presented and then squandered. From here on out, it becomes much harder to make the kinds of changes that might have happened in Workforce if there had been a more concerted effort to get out and actually protest the changes in real time.
So, the original “You Want It Darker” post a couple of weeks ago, has now become “You’ve got it darker”. Remember, I’m only the messenger.
NB. Even if the Senate Workforce Committee successfully removes the Emergency Clauses from everywhere in the two bills, there is nothing to stop the Joint Ways and Means Committee from adding them back if it means revenue sooner, or litigation resolved sooner. In fact, I expect this would happen to facilitate getting the litigation started immediately. Second, by making no recommendations, not only does Ways and Means have a cafeteria menu of choices, they could also gut and stuff either SB 559 or SB 560 or both to do whatever they wanted to PERS members. Finally, and this may not be obvious, but from Monday forward, we will be in a nearly complete information blackout with Joint Ways and Means operating largely in the dark, leaving all members in the dark, leaving me in the dark except for the few inside contacts I may have. Not only does this NOT REDUCE STRESS, it may actually INCREASE STRESS because now we will have little to no advance warning what is coming, and only the projected close date of the legislature of June 23 or the mandatory close date of July 8 to guide us. As I’ve tried to say, you’ve now got the worst of all worlds while trying to make your decisions. Tim Knopp’s assurances that “…we don’t want to precipitate a crisis” is meaningless. Just remember that Betsy Johnson (DINO in chief) is a significant player in Ways and Means, and she was Knopp’s partner in crime in the pre-session PERS Workgroup with a particular animus towards inactive members (of which Dash-10 makes all dual ORP-PERS members the newest victims of Betsy’s animus). (EDIT: The dash-15 amendment, introduced 4/14 removes the emergency clause from the original bill, but retains it all of the amendments. You are left to your own devices to figure out what that scam is about).