A Bold Move

Dems charging ahead with ‘PERS lite’ bill

As much as I dislike people who talk about themselves in the third person, I am beginning to seriously distrust the author of this column. Last week I bamboozled you into thinking that damn PERS bill, SB 822, went down the Ways and Means rabbit hole, never to be seen again until the back room budget deal at the end of Hot Air Society session in July. For any of my three loyal readers who actually thought I knew what I was talking about — think again. I was totally wrong.

The first PERS skirmish of this session should take place this week in Salem. Speaker Tina Kotek and Senate President Peter Courtney have apparently heard enough from the scorched-earth Republicans with their nasty SB 754 proposed by Mean Jim Green and the Oregon School Boards Association.

Keep in mind that SB 822 does not make the Democrats’ friends in public sector labor unions very happy, with its cost savings accrued in part through tiered cost-of-living adjustments (COLAs). SB 822 also “smoothes” out the employer rates by moving some of their debt into the future. The Republicans don’t like it either, calling it “PERS lite.” They are banking on a much nastier version of reform. Kotek, observing the dyspepsia in both parties, says: “We’re clearly doing something right if no one is happy.”

SB 754 is a massive attack on public employee pensions and highly unlikely to stand up in the courts. Not only does it go after the COLA more aggressively, one of its biggest cost savings is reducing the money match from 8 percent to 4 percent. According to the Milliman actuarials, this change would cut pensions of 55-year-olds by almost 35 percent and reduce the pension benefits by almost 30 percent for those who retire at 65.

Moving SB 822 now, with a current Democratic budget proposal that’s $275 million out of balance without additional revenue — and without meaningful Republican input in the development of this particular PERS fix — is a bold move. It could produce an interesting vote count. Maybe a few Republicans will join the majority Democrats to pass the measure. Maybe the unions will spook the Democrats. Maybe the Republicans will vote against the bill as a protest. Republican House leader Mike McLane has already made it clear when asked about the supermajority votes needed to raise additional revenue: “We’re not interested.” Speaker Kotek has been equally blunt: The bill is moving forward unchanged … now.

I’m becoming a big fan of Kotek. She’s tough and decisive. One gets the impression she’s heard enough of the debate. When taking on these Republican male leaders in the House and Senate she has really shown a big pair of, um, I mean, she’s really grown a pair of, um, I mean they’re as big as church bells. Let me try that again: She is very brave and courageous. My lovely wife of 37 years, Jeannie, is a women’s health care nurse practitioner; in other words, she doesn’t really give much of a rip about us males of the world who hold up half the sky, to paraphrase an old feminist button. Jeannie thinks one of the weirdest idiosyncrasies of our language is to equate courage with men’s testicles. What Jeannie says about Tina is: “That lady has got some EGGS!, by golly. She ain’t afraid of any of them guys.”

Will SB 822 be the only PERS reform this session? Hard to say. Are Republicans willing to take the blame for failing to raise the $275 million in new revenue necessary to get to the school funding number both parties say they want? Hard to say. But at least Tina has got the ball rolling, so to speak.

HB 2783 update

Earlier, I told you I would track this bill for you because of my opposition to lobbyist abuse. If you remember, the bill would create an offense of unlawful tethering of legislators by lobbyists, punishable by a maximum $1,000 fine. If the lobbyist tethers a legislator, or leaves tied up in front of a Starbucks, and it results in death or serious injury, the lobbyist would face first-degree animal neglect charges, because, as we all know, legislators are not quite humans.

The bill is currently in the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee, where a public hearing was held last week. The committee would have voted sooner, but they got distracted by a bill that outlaws performance-enhancing drugs for miniature horses and provides for new bedbug secrecy protections. God knows they need them.