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Thursday, July 12, 2018

Hangout At The Gallows

The political silly season has started in earnest early this year.  Over the past week, I’ve repeatedly seen two ads running regularly on several Portland TV channels during the nightly news hour.  The ads are anti-Kate Brown, and depict several infamous PERS retirees who draw large monthly benefits.  The ads are of the old newsreel type, and ask whether these people cured cancer, or won Nobel prizes, and then dismisses them as just ”retired state employees”, as if they did nothing of merit to ”deserve” those benefits.  These commercials, which have run multiple times during any half-hour segment of the local news are sponsored by a group called Priority Oregon, whose origins, association, and financing are a bit elusive (there is a bit of information out there suggesting that several individuals may be behind this organization, including the infamous Loren Park).  Each ad ends with a picture of Kate Brown, a derogatory statement about her, and a phone number for the Governor’s office.  I presume these ads are to make Kate Brown the cause of PERS’ high benefits with the implication that (a) the Governor alone is the solution to the problems; and (b) a change of Governor would dramatically alter the status quo.  I presume that these ads are a lead up to more targeted ads featuring Knute Buehler (Buehler?  Buehler?) as the savior Oregon needs as it's next Governor.

What makes these ads so pernicious is the fact that they play on the very issues incorrectly addressed in the article I refuted in the post immediately preceding this one (”A Hard Rains Gonna Fall”, below).  They also play to the Oregon Business Alliance’s package of proposals that will be delivered to the Legislature for its consideration in 2019.  Those focus on eliminating the pickup, capping benefits prospectively for future retirees (I’ve seen two numbers for the cap - $100,000 and $150,000), increasing employee health care contributions, and a Tier 4 as a pure 401K, eliminating any defined benefit for new members.  
Adding to the PERS angst is the recent US Supreme Court decision in Janus v AFSCME, which eliminates the requirement that unionized public employees who don’t wish to be union members will no longer be compelled to pay fair-share dues.  Higher Education has already implemented Janus, effective with July salaries paid on August 1st.  This challenges public employee union finances just as they head into the season where political sponsorship and endorsements are critical, and lobbying expenditures during the long legislative session loom large.  I expect a heavy recruiting campaign by the unions to raise employee awareness of the value of union membership.  Regardless of their success, this is a major jolt to their finances and is the beginning of a long-known objective of conservatives to seriously diminish the union role in influencing election results in local, state, and national elections.
So, if you thought my last post about the NYT’s screed on public employee retirement systems was either over the top, dour, or too pessimistic, this post is intended to reinforce the message that things look grim for PERS members not yet retired, and for those not yet members.  Our only good defense is a good offense.  I repeat my long-held, and frequently repeated maxim - ELECTIONS MATTER!  And the November elections matter more than most.  Just remember that your votes for local and statewide offices are critical for your own fiscal well-being, while your votes for national office are critical for your (and our) psychological, social, physical, and economic well-being.  VOTE CAREFULLY! VOTE EARLY! AND VOTE OFTEN (just kidfing).  Remember the title of this post and the last.  Poor voting choices could turn those titles from hyperbole into reality.