Editorial: Don’t just give up on PERS

The Bulletin | April 16, 2016 12:10 a.m.

State Senate President Peter Courtney’s attitude toward one of the state’s major financial challenges suggests that Oregon should have a new official motto: We give up.

Courtney has told The Bulletin he was not that interested in another attempt to hold down costs of the state’s Public Employees Retirement System or PERS. “The court has pretty much said ‘you’re wrong,’” he said.

So let’s just give up.

Never mind that schools are going to get clobbered by increasing PERS costs. Never mind that cities are going to get clobbered. Never mind that counties are going to get clobbered. Never mind that the state government is going to get clobbered.

The unfunded liability for PERS recently went up by another 20 percent. That means that public employers must pay more to keep the system afloat. Instead of paying in at about an average of 18 percent of payroll, they may have to go as high as 30 percent of payroll, according to The Oregonian. That’s likely to continue for years to come.

It means less money in the classroom. It means less money for roads. It means less money for public safety.

The Bend-La Pine Schools has said it anticipates the increasing costs of PERS are going to cost the district $39.5 million between 2008 and 2021.

Did you read recently about how the city of Bend was considering cuts to come up with at least $1 million to prevent the city’s roads from further deterioration? That was made even more difficult because it had to set aside some $2.7 million to deal with rising PERS costs.

Public employees deserve retirement benefits. But PERS sometimes provides excessive benefits as a result of poor decisions about how the retirement system should function.

So we don’t think our state legislators should be giving up. They should listen to State Sen. Tim Knopp’s suggestion and hold hearings on the PERS issue this year, before the start of the 2017 session.