Punting on PERS

Oregon reckons with $5 billion loss

As this column goes to print, yours truly will be a whole new person in approximately two weeks. No, no, this isn’t a Bruce Jenner moment, about his transgenderfication and his alleged dedication of his balls to Obama. Simply stated, I will be able to discard the chains of oppression, forever freed from the shackles of being a First Amendment victim of this sobering qualifier at the end of each of my columns: “Tony Corcoran is currently a state employee, but his observations in this column are those of a private Oregon citizen.” (In other words: Don’t believe a thing he has to say because he’s biased and he can’t tell us how he really feels.) Pretty soon, dear reader, you’ll soon be able to discern just how full of bullshit I am on my own merits, despite no longer being a public employee. Just a retired geezer! My plans involve a little golf and producing paella for progressive politicians in perpetuity.

Speaking of retirement, last Thursday the Oregon Supreme Court delivered the latest slam-dunk to Oregon public employers, whether they be the state, counties, cities or school districts (seriously, does Oregon need all 197 school districts? — if you ever want to have a real discussion about unnecessary bureaucratic redundancy and responsible school finance, start there). Once again, as they did in response to the PERS legislation we passed in 2003, the supremes unanimously reinforced their previous position that contract law is simple: “A deal is a deal.” You can’t change a deal retroactively.

And just for full disclosure: I will retire under the defined benefit formula, not the money match, even though I’m Tier One. Why? Because 10 years of my PERS time was spent serving in the Legislature making less than minimum wage. The outcome of the current Supreme Court decision wouldn’t have affected me either way.

Both the Legislature and then-Gov. Kitzhaber recognized the risks of the 2013 reforms they proposed. I never sensed that the proponents or opponents of PERS reform had a clue how the supremes would rule. The Oregonian editorial board succinctly laid out the result: Taxpayers no longer must compensate retirees who live out of state for Oregon income taxes they don’t pay, and reductions in annual cost of living adjustments — the reform’s primary cost-containment mechanism — will apply to income earned by public employees after the effective date of the 2013 reforms. You can’t change a deal retroactively.

Granted, the executive and legislative branches now have a larger unfunded actuarial liability owed to people who’d already retired. The anticipated savings of the reforms — more than $5 billion over 20 years — has vanished.

As The Oregonian editors asked: What can legislators do? Now the rabid anti-public employee voices recognize that even if there were a legislative will to tinker once again with the contractual rights of a public pension system, support in the courts would be difficult. As for the $500 million hole in the budget, this Legislature will simply punt forward to the 2017 budget. 2016 will be a fascinating political season; I predict plenty of estrogen from Kate Brown and Hillary Clinton and ballot measure wars.

Speaking of estrogen, I’m saddened by the conflict that has arisen in the Republican House caucus. Apparently, the Queen of Self-righteousness Julie Parrish is starting to irritate not only every Democrat in the Capitol, but also her own colleagues. I don’t usually have a lot of good things to say about Republicans in general, but I’ve got to hand it to Rep. Vic Gilliam of Silverton. He had the cojones to take Parrish to task for her shameless piling on in the aftermath of the Kitzhaber/Hayes fiasco. After berating Parrish on the House floor last month, Gilliam introduced his own legislation, aimed at legislators who run campaign consulting firms on the side, to require them to regularly and frequently disclose any political work they are doing, and who’s paying them. And Parrish seems to be the only Republican legislator in the campaign consulting business today.

Parrish and Gilliam have a history. Gilliam, who these days would be described as a moderate Republican, beat a right-wing challenger in his Republican primary who received a huge donation from Parrish’s sugar daddy, Andrew Miller of Stimson Lumber. It is ironic that Parrish was on the losing end of a bill last week that will require insurance companies to extend women’s birth control prescriptions for longer than 30 days. My wife, Jeannie, a nurse practitioner, has railed for years about how unfair this insurance practice has been to women. Anyway, after her long harangue on the House floor in opposition to the bill, pitiful Julie was only able to garner one other Republican vote, from her pathetic colleague, Bill Post, an anti-choice Lars Larson wannabe radio host. Stay tuned.

Former state Sen. Tony Corcoran of Cottage Grove is currently a state employee but his observations in this column are those of private citizen.