PERS cost-sharing bill more window-dressing than reform: Editorial Agenda 2017



PERS cost-sharing bill more window-dressing than reform: Editorial Agenda 2017

SB 1068, a bill aimed at easing public employers' crippling pension costs, accomplishes the rare feat of being measly and consequential at the same time. Measly, in that the proposed changes would barely move the needle in addressing the escalating contributions that government agencies and school districts will be making to the underfunded pension system for years to come. But consequential for what the bill reveals: Legislators who have long insisted that there was nothing they could do to legally and meaningfully address Oregon's mounting pension problem finally appear willing to try.

In the abstract, SB 1068 seems a promising way to help the government absorb rising Public Employees Retirement System costs. The bill, sponsored by Sen. President Peter Courtney, D-Salem, and Sen. Mark Hass, D-Beaverton, would require public employees to contribute to their own pensions, just as almost all other public employees across the country do. The idea is for workers - who already contribute 6 percent of their salary to "supplemental" retirement accounts - to divert a portion of that to the main pension fund, which owes $22 billion more in benefits than it has on hand. Those payments would help offset the skyrocketing contributions that public employers are required to make to chip away at the pension funding gap and allow them to reserve more money to provide the schooling, health care and other public services that Oregonians are paying for.

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