PERS Update: Cost Concerns, PERS Solutions and SAIF

Published Thursday, March 21, 2019

In the 2019 Oregon Legislature, lawmakers are proposing tax increases to fund $2 billion toward education. This proposal does not take into account the skyrocketing cost of the Public Employees Retirement System (PERS), which will likely eat up much of any new revenue  generated from new taxes  proposed this year.

In March, the Oregon Business Plan released an analysis showing exactly how the increasing price of PERS will outpace the $2 billion tax proposal. OBI is a partner in the Oregon Business Plan, along with the Oregon Business Council and Portland Business Alliance.

OBI has long advocated the need to address the growing cost of PERS’ $26.6 billion unfunded liability. The Oregon Business Plan’s analysis puts into simple graphs how tax increases cannot keep up with PERS.

“The state sorely needs strategic investments in its education system. However, commitments to fund Oregon’s PERS system will make it difficult for the state to realize the intended value of that investment,” Oregon Business Plan concludes in the analysis. “Reforms to PERS are needed to extend the value of new dollars and ensure that the intended benefit reaches Oregon students.”

So, what can be done about it? OBI and partners are working on that, too.

In February, PERS Solutions for Public Services launched a new informative website, PERSSolutions.org.

“PERS Solutions for Public Services is an information resource for individuals and organizations from across Oregon working to advance cost-sharing reforms to the state’s pension system that reduce the impact of PERS on taxpayer budgets, ensure competitive retirement benefits and working conditions for public workers, and preserve and enhance vital public services,” the mission statement says.

The website covers the basics of the PERS problem and addresses the history behind it. It offers “7 Sensible PERS Solutions” and principles for PERS reform.

OBI and the PERS Solutions for Public Service want businesses and everyday citizens to use this website as a tool. Spread the word about why PERS funding is a problem and how it impacts individuals. Through a grassroots effort, we can raise the consciousness about this issue looming over Oregon’s government, the state’s economy, cities, counties and schools.  

PERS has the potential to injure another important part of Oregon’s business culture: SAIF. Gov. Kate Brown is considering raiding SAIF’s $1.4 billion reserves to backfill the PERS hole.

A February Oregonian article broke the news, indicating the governor may sell the state’s workers compensation insurance corporation or tap its funds. OBI has been told Brown does not intend to sell SAIF, but taking its funds to pay off PERS is not off the table. Keeping SAIF’s financial position strong is one of OBI’s core policies, which includes keeping PERS out of SAIF’s pockets.