First, a Salem legislative update: It ain’t lookin’ good.
Look, I know from experience that our citizen-legislators barely earn minimum wage. But they’re currently overpaid, especially the Republicans. The 2017 legislature convened on Feb. 1. To date, it has produced nothing but hot air. The major issues — education funding, a transportation plan, PERS (Public Employees Retirement System) reform — are all pending.
Granted, the effects of Trump and Ryan’s abject failure to dismantle and improve Obamacare, at least for now, are still unclear. But the deadline for adjournment sine die is Monday, July 10.
The PERS reform committees in the House and Senate have not moved beyond discussion. Their only “bi-partisan agreement” at this time is that they can’t solve the unfunded liability problem by affecting tier-one employees hired before 1996. These tier-one folks, and the benefits they will receive after they retire, account for two-thirds of the $22 billion unfunded liability. Instead, the bi-partisans appear to be attacking benefits for newer employees. The unions hate this notion of unequal treatment for obvious reasons.
Just a few examples: Senate Bill 559 bases the “final average salary” used in future benefits calculations on the highest five years of service instead of three. Senate Bill 560 caps the future final average salary used in the benefits formula at $100,000. And it redirects future members’ 6 percent retirement contribution from a supplemental retirement account into the pension fund. This is the committee’s feeble attempt to resolve the Bellotti Effect. But you notice these bills only refer to future hires. That’s because previous court rulings and collective bargaining agreements have made it quite clear none of this can be applied retroactively: A deal’s a deal! Remember?
Okay, on to Washington D.C. for a moment. Our local Hot Air Society provides one specialized social service to Oregonians: We are the only professional drinking club in Lane County dedicated to identifying and toasting scoundrels. Bill Sizemore of Oregon Taxpayers United infamy was our former standard bearer. Currently Dennis Richardson, our sleazy secretary of state, is a usual suspect.
But last week we had to go with Congressman Greg Walden.
Why? Let’s see. He is a member of Speaker Paul Ryan’s leadership team and the lead developer of Ryancare or Trumpcare, or whatever you want to call their skanky Republican substitute for Obamacare. A plan so bad that even a Republican majority wouldn’t let it get to the House floor for a vote! (Thank goodness.) How’s that for starters?
There’s a reason why Oregon has elected only one Republican member of the U.S. Congress since Jeff Merkley defeated incumbent Senator Gordon Smith in 2008.
Walden is an interesting guy. He began in the Oregon House in 1989, then moved to the Oregon Senate replacing Wes Cooley, who was elected to the U.S. House in 1994. I remember meeting Sen. Walden when he joined us in the House lounge for lunch a couple of months into the 1995 session. I was a lowly freshman and a newly elected whip for the minority Democrats, so I was surprised that Walden, part of the senate Republican leadership even back then, would join our table.
Turns out he had some advice for me. He noticed that I spent most of my time in the Oregon House hurling insults at Republicans in the state Senate for their attacks on working people, public employees and workers’ comp. My logic was simple: Why alienate myself from house Republicans with whom I had to work — when there was a whole posse of Republican senators in the other chamber who made perfect targets! Greg kindly advised me that any bills with my name on them were dead meat if they reached the Senate. Oregon is a small enough state that people notice this kind of stuff. I thanked him for his advice.
So 22 years hence, last week, I took Peter DeFazio’s advice from his Lane Community College political town hall in February. I’m now part of the “resistance.” I emailed Greg and his media guy for an interview with Hot Air. I want to ask him how it feels to abandon 65,000 of his own constituents and 400,000 Oregonians with Republican Ryancare. How does it feel to support a plan that would hold itself hostage to its right-wing Freedom Caucus and harm Oregonians: the worst hit among all the Medicaid expansion states! Not to mention the largest tax break ever to the rich?
This is not the same Greg Walden I met 22 years ago. Stay tuned.