We all know the world changed two years ago. Oregon Republicans now embrace Cambridge Analytica, the Mercers, the Koch brothers and the Trump clan: It’s America’s new Gilded Age. Promoting historically high income disparity and tax breaks for the uber-wealthy, gutting women’s rights, immigrant families and union rights, and tweeting racist dog whistles — these new robber barons are the same assholes that caught Mark Twain’s eye over 100 years ago when he described the first Gilded Age.
Obscene power grabs arrived quickly with these new thieves, aided by the whorish compliance of Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan and the Republican Party in general.
SCOTUS already slapped public employees and the doctrine of stare decisis upside the head with the Janus v. AFSCME decision. Settled law, my ass. Roe v. Wade, you’re next. It’s just a matter of time. Judicial activism in the face of religious bigotry is a virtue, not a vice these days. I’m sorry, Mr. Kavanaugh, on second thought maybe we’ve already got too many mackerel snappers on the Supreme Court. Couldn’t we just get another one of those nice Jewish lawyers? Preferably a woman?
Oregon campaigns come into clearer focus as we enter the last 100 days before the Nov. 6 general election. Like most progressives I’ll be focused on turnout. Who’s exciting and who’s drawing money and interest? Whose interest?
PERS made its perennial appearance with its unfunded actuarial liability (UAL) and projected rate increases facing the next Legislature. The Oregonian’s Ted Sickinger recently reported that even though PERS had a healthy 15.4 percent return on its investment portfolio (reducing the UAL by $3 billion going forward), it still faces a 38 percent increase for the 2019-21 biennial budget cycle.
Anticipating the increase, a coalition made up of the Oregon Business Council and employer groups representing cities, counties and school boards presented a joint letter to the PERS board. They asked the actuarial company, Milliman, to calculate savings that could occur under various proposed legislative actions. These included several that would certainly draw intense legal scrutiny by the unions:
• Extending a federal salary cap used in benefit calculations (now $275,000) to Tier 1 employees.
• Establishing a 6 percent pension fund contribution from Tier 1 and Tier 2 employees and a 3 percent contribution from Tier 3 employees.
• Transitioning Tier 1 and 2 employees to Tier 3 benefits.
• Establishing an early retirement incentive program that allows eligible Tier 1 and Tier 2 employees to retire any time after age 50 and start collecting a benefit while continuing to work for a PERS-covered employer for five years.
The good news is we’re only facing five statewide ballot measures in November, down from an average of 14 over the last 20 years. Some of them simply revisit national red state values in Oregon like anti-immigration and anti-choice crap.
The immigration proposal would repeal Oregon’s 1987 sanctuary law, which prohibits state and local law enforcement officers from helping to enforce federal immigration law. A solution in search of a problem.
Another initiative would prohibit state funding for abortion, which is currently covered by Oregon’s Medicaid program and public employees’ health insurance. Pro-choice advocates argue this measure would actually increase the number of unwanted pregnancies therefore increasing the number of abortions! Great public policy and great family planning! God bless unintended consequences.
Speaking of bad policy, two of the other proposed constitutional amendments affect tax issues. One extends the three-fifths supermajority vote requirement to other means by which the state tries to raise revenue. The other taxation proposal would amend the state constitution to ban taxes on food, an attempt by the grocery industry and the soda pop sugardaddies prohibiting a much-needed source of revenue for the Medicaid obesity population in Oregon.
The last measure is a legislative referral that would allow local governments to issue bonds to pay for affordable housing projects involving nonprofits or other nongovernmental entities.
Finally, a shout out to my buddy, Mo Smith, an Oregon Nursing Association staffer who helped out the PeaceHealth Riverbend hospitalists at a recent picket line. Great turnout and rally. Mo even taught me a new chant, honed by a hospitalist from the next generation of labor’s Woody Guthrie-inspired poets. I think it has something to do with a small Catholic hospital that morphed from a Sacred Heart to a PeaceHealth MegaCorp.
“We don’t care what the pope would call it:
“We still call it Sacred Wallet!”
Stay tuned. Governor’s race, is it close? Let’s follow the money.
Former state Sen. Tony Corcoran of Cottage Grove is a retired state employee.