After tax defeat, Dems should become bipartisan on PERS

Sen. Tim Knopp_thb

by Sen. Tim Knopp

The failure of the Oregon House to pass a tax increase package on Oregon’s small business owners creates real opportunity. Public services continue to teeter on the brink of insolvency with no workable solution from Salem while half of the session has expired. This crossroad isn’t the end of the path, it’s a moment of clarity with two unmistakable realities. First, the budget crisis facing Oregon cannot be solved without a substantive and bipartisan solution to PERS reform. Second, Republicans are at the table with substantive suggestions on PERS and revenue but Democrats had pursued a go it alone approach.

Make no mistake. Last week, an opportunity was born for the legislature, and today we start fresh.

If passing Senate Bill 822 is the only PERS reform offered by the 77th Legislative Assembly then more cuts an fewer teachers are the very real choices facing school districts. Parents and teachers are still reeling from out of control class sizes, shorter school years, and significant program cuts that are back on the table because some politicians in Salem seem paralyzed to act on real PERS reform. I believe there are courageous members of both parties and both chambers that are ready to do more. The time is now.

This indefensible math of PERS employer rates underscores the necessity of real reform — not just for balancing the state budget, but for shoring up Oregonian’s confidence that the state has put itself on a responsible, sustainable path that provides a fair retirement for Oregon’s valued public employees without sacrificing services to seniors, kids and public safety.

Cities, counties and school boards throughout the state are demanding a PERS reform package that restores teaching positions, reduces class sizes, put more cops on the streets and provides new investments within our community.

I continue to applaud the Governor for his interest in addressing PERS cost increases and look forward to his legislative action to protect scarce funds needed for education and other vital public services. But if lawmakers continue to punt on real PERS reform it will simply leave Oregon families holding the bag.

The passage of Senate Bill 822 represents an unwillingness to recognize the seriousness and scope of the problem schools and our police and fire departments face. Kicking the can down the road with empty rhetoric of a shared sacrifice is not an answer. Neither is the Democrat proposal’s alleged “savings” of $350 million based on simply skipping required payments — akin to ignoring a credit card bill for a couple years and racking up more interest.

The public employee retirement system is a titanic problem and is a sinking ship that needs to be rescued.  Passing the bare minimum says to kids and their parents, seniors and Oregon’s most vulnerable that we don’t have room in the life boat for you.

Oregon deserves leaders willing to step up to plate and solve this crisis. With no work group, no collaboration, no negotiations, SB 822 represents a backroom political deal that shifts the PERS debt burden onto Oregon families and small businesses. Democrats continue to ask as part of their plan that you make up the difference of their failure to solve the PERS problem by raising taxes while limiting home mortgage deductions. Last Week, we tried that path and came to a dead end.

In the end, the passage of SB 822 does little to stop local PERS obligations from swamping local services in a sea of red ink and debt. Please demand the legislature pass a real PERS reform plan like those that the Oregon School Boards Association and many Republicans have proposed. Oregon’s future depends on swift bipartisan action.

“Great moments… are born from great opportunity,” declared Miracle on Ice Coach Herb Brooks.  “And that’s what you have here.” Today represents an opportunity to do great things. Last week’s vote represents a simple truth, no bipartisan consensus on our state budgetary woes equals no reform. Today, we begin again.

Sen. Knopp was previously in the Legislature from 1999 to 2005 for three terms, including one as Oregon House Majority Leader, where he led the PERS Reforms of 2003 that saved taxpayers billions. He was elected to his first term in the Oregon State Senate in November 2012. Senate District 27 encompasses the Central Oregon communities of Bend, Redmond, Sunriver, and Tumalo.