The Democrats’ dilemma with PERS


by Dan Lucas

The thrust of the Democratic rocket in Oregon reached its zenith recently, and we witnessed its stall in the legislative session that just ended. Democrats controlled everything in state government, but they were paralyzed by the huge PERS dilemma. Like the stages on the old Saturn rockets, the older tiers of PERS that helped get Democrats where they are — have started to become a drag.

So how long before Oregon Democrats jettison the older tiers of PERS retirees?

It’s getting more and more difficult for Democrats or public employee unions to spin the PERS unfunded liability and its devastating impact on government budgets across the state. Groups like Stand for Children, the Oregon School Boards Association and editorial boards across the state are calling for meaningful PERS reform.

This session, Oregon Democrats were caught like a deer in the headlights. Governor Kitzhaber, who mainly cares about funding his government-run health programs, initially showed a much greater willingness to make meaningful reforms to PERS. He knows that if he doesn’t, money he wants to use to expand government health programs will be consumed by PERS obligations.

It is an increasing dilemma for Oregon Democrats. How do they deal with this monster they’ve created? This Pac Man of government budgets in Oregon, the PERS obligations, will continue to consume more and more of the funds that could be used to provide government services and any new government programs.

Portland Democrat Tina Kotek held the line for the old guard PERS recipients, using her position as House Speaker.

But with increasing pressure from within, from younger government workers, from left-leaning editorial boards and from elected Democrats with plans that need funding, Oregon Democrats and their allies the public employee unions are going to have to deal with meaningful PERS reform.

Pressure from younger government workers like the teacher who had been laid off from North Salem who wrote the guest opinion piece for the Oregonian back in March. He wrote “What’s been most upsetting is that while teachers’ unions have fought and continue to fight for retiree benefits during this economic crisis, working teachers have been waylaid.” He had led off with this startling exclamation “As a liberal, a teacher, and a staunch supporter of President Barack Obama, I have reached what may sound like a surprising conclusion: I completely agree with the Oregon Republican Party when it comes to reforming the Public Employees Retirement System.”

His op-ed may have been a bellwether, a canary in the mine heralding a seismic shift to come in the Oregon political landscape. That shift includes groups like Stand for Children. Back during the Measure 66 and Measure 67 campaigns, Stand for Children was a staunch ally of the Democrats. Now, not so much. They are now very much at odds with their former allies over meaningful PERS reform.

Oregon Democrats will become increasingly concerned that as the PERS crunch continues, not only will old allies desert them, but more voters will start to realize that if they want meaningful PERS reform, they’ll need to vote for Republicans. That’s what someone who had been a lifelong Democrat recommended last September.  He wrote “Unions and government administrators opt for fewer school days, larger class sizes and closed courthouses over PERS reform and controlling the cost of benefits. PERS will require an additional $1 billion next biennium. Without Democratic plans for controlling these costs, promises for progressive tax reform or fully funding education are simply not credible with moderate voters,” and he advised voting Republican to send a message to the Democratic Party.

To avoid losing more allies and voters to Republican candidates, Democrats are going to have to face their PERS dilemma and start throwing older tier PERS retirees under the bus. They’ll also need to run their public relations spin machines overtime to try to distance themselves from the years that they’ve kowtowed to the public employee unions to create the PERS dilemma in the first place.

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Posted by at 05:00 | Posted in Gov. Kitzhaber, OR 77th Legislative Session, PERS | 23 Comments |Email This Post Email This Post |Print This Post Print This Post
  • Bob Clark

    Kitzhaber’s health care empire is a success mostly on paper, and only because it is being fed by billions from Uncle Sam (a significant portion of which is newly “printed” monies). It is pretty easy to suspect Kitzhaber’s health care plot will stall and become mediocrity or worse, just as his education reform push pretty much became a circus with the exiting of Rudy Crew. But hey, it all looked good on paper; but once Uncle Sam stops funding the current health care party, it will meet a painful depression.

    • oregongrown


      Re: “newly “printed” monies”

      Just say debt.

  • JackLordGod

    I think the article is a little overly hopeful. Public sentiment is not going to turn away from Democrats because the public is all of a sudden going to realize Republicans have some magic wand to solve PERS and therefore your kids will start going to school five days a week again.

    Solving PERS is not a legislative or political problem. The courts have ruled on it several times. Each time they have said Oregonians are stuck with PERS.

    The only way to change this is with PR. It would take a massive campaign of “tired your kids aren’t learning anything in school, thank these guys on the golf course earning more while retired than they did while working”.

    If anyone thinks the public is going to wake up tomorrow and think “gee, Democrats got us into this PERS mess, that’s why my kids go to crap schools and even that is down to four days a week, maybe I should vote Republican” they are going to have a long wait. That’s not going to happen.

    In 2010 – We had the most massive election victory by Republicans ever. It was historic. More state legislatures went Republican than ever before, the House switched firmly into Republican hands. The only Democratic victory of any note anywhere in the country was in Oregon. Kitzhaber won the governorship. Massive tax increases were also voted in.

    That’s it. In a sea of historic Republican victory and massive anti Democrat sentiment, Oregon voted in a democrat who had previously said the state was ungovernable. That should tell you something. If you think for five seconds Republicans are getting anywhere in this state because voters simply get tired of Democrats you are dreaming.

    The Republican party should sit out the next election cycle, take the money they would have spent on that, and start using it for a massive ground game of educating the public through advertising, town halls and the like. Running yet another milk toast candidate on the “pretty please can it be our turn to play now” approach is not going anywhere.

    • Sen Sing

      Expose the DNC for what it is…an extension of the arm bent on turning US over to flat out socialism that has never worked in the ‘anals’ of recorded history, nor will it now.

      • HBguy

        I didn’t know recorded history had an anus. Perhaps that’s why there’s so much crappy history.

        • Ballistic45

          Yep, the anus of history is Liberalism, a mental disorder that always cost liberty, money and loss of self determination… Given time, always fails… Given time will always turn violent to any opposition.. Rides on the back of others into power… Enslaves as many followers to the public Tit as possible to maintain a voter base…. Yep, the Anus of History is Communist hiding behind the names of ‘Progressives” and “Liberals”… Like Muslims they are intent on subjugating every non believer to their will at any cost… No wonder Liberals and Muslims support each other….

          • HBguy

            You’re obviously a close up observer of Liberalism. As you head is so clearly implanted into the anus of history.

          • Ballistic45

            Prove me wrong HBguy! Or are you a typical Liberal Shyt slinger trying to deflect from the issue… And you as a Liberal Lemming have a great view of the Anus’s of those Liberal Lemmings you are following to the Liberal Cliff… I put it that you are closer to an Anus than I will ever be… History and Liberty are both enemies of Liberals… You prove it…

          • ,

            Your cheep shot came up snake eyes you fallacious mouthing python.

    • oregongrown


      Re: “I think the article is a little overly hopeful.”

      You said a mouthful there.

  • Ballistic45

    America’s “Good Times” brought about a surge in Give-Me policies in Government and Unions… We had it good and at the time it made sense to share the wealth a little more… Conservatives had a hard time selling the idea that to much of a good thing could be our undoing in times of recession. Now we find Cities, Counties, States going broke over paying out Generous Pension plans.. Job reduction and loss do to Companies who can no longer afford the high good time wages and demands of Good time pension cost… Chicago and other cities are on the verge of financial collapse, Some states are following closely behind including Oregon… The rush to put Government in charge of all aspects of our economy is compounding the problem to regaining a healthy recovery which grows the middle class and therefore the tax base….

    • oregongrown


      Re:”America’s “Good Times” brought about a surge in Give-Me policies in Government and Unions.”

      And apparently the “Bad Times” brought about a about a surge in Give-Me policies in Government and Unions.”

      Food stamps at all time high, with Oregon the # 1 in distribution. New cell phones for anyone on Medicaid or welfare.

      Not sure I’m seeing any difference at all in the growth of government in good or bad times. It grows at exponential leves with rational: well it’s good times “WE SHOULD SPEND MORE, because we have denied ourselves this or that and lets start SPENDING!” And in bad times “WE SHOULD SPEND MORE because there are more people in need.”

      I don’t believe for one minute we’ve got any leadership, at the federal, state, county, or city level that knows how to cut spending.

  • oregongrown

    Out of all the comments, I agree with Jack the most. Just because we are steeped in debt and sucking dirt, and putting our grandchildren into mega debt has not even registered with any Democratic leaders. They don’t care and they certainly don’t mention that at election time, and they don’t have need to win elections.

    Oregon leadership is the best example of steeped in stupid and Democrats use that to parlay big WINS IN EVERY SINGLE ELECTION.

    Look at Oregon. Whose voting? Thousands of people that get government aid. The biggest question to these people is “will I still get my check?” They aren’t questioning where it’s coming from, they have never questioned where it’s coming from AND THEY WILL NEVER QUESTION WHERE’S IT’S COMING FROM. Look at the stance OF EVERY SINGLE PERS TIER 1 RETIREE, which is “I got mine.” Look at the politicians that have feathered their own nest and catered to big government with the old, IBG, YBG, that has worked so well.

    And this author, while he’s making some relevant points doesn’t seem to realize that we are not talking about the same voters as a generation ago. We are talking about millions of voters that are now subsidized by the government. Debt is a way of life in today’s world. There is no shame in bankruptcy, there is no shame in welfare, there is no shame in food stamps. Au contraire, there is now a sense of “I deserve it.”

    And here in Oregon there are thousands of us losing ground, working part-time jobs, with IRA’s and 401k’s that were emptied out to stay afloat during the recession that is still ever present in our lives.

    I think the author gives way too much credit to the intelligence of the MAJORITY of voters and also to their level of caring about anything other than “make sure I get mine.” (Welfare, PERS Tier 1; Medicaid) How many years have we had the debt clock up and running so citizens can go look at it? And how many articles do we read in the newspaper that scream how lucky we are to get federal funding, bragging that it is “FREE” money?

    Stupid sells. All day long. And here in Oregon it sells best of all. The Dems are masters at this.

  • voterid

    When states elect nothing but democrats to handle their money, why are the people surprised their states are in financial ruin? Tax and spend is a disease that the democrats are born with, so running up the credit cards, pleasing unions for votes and having rubber in their legs makes for a perfect storm in the future…Guess this is the future for Oregon?..Portland will go down for the count first, but who will be next?..Salem, Eugene, Medford?…where will it end?…good luck to a once very nice state to have lived in and born there..the state is beautiful, but the people don’t have a clue what they’ve done to themselves and it’s obviously too late!

    • Capt. RelyOn

      Here we stand: The foxes and their kizbibers have overrun the hen house leaving no option but to change rules and permit taxpayers only to vote. That is of course, any hope to restore common sense fiscal responsibility in our once famous and admired ship of state.

      • HBguy

        When I read things like this. The claims of Republicans that Voter ID laws are not meant to suppress voting of the poor and elderly ring pretty hollow.

        • .

          Stand nigh Capt Bligh, as your bountiful perch welcomes you to an extension of shark embark week.

  • Alan

    Slavery, Women’s right to vote, prohibition repeal, OSHA, Social Security, literacy tests to vote, unemployment benefits, worker’s compensation,…the list could go on and on… conservatives have always resisted things that benefit the common people and human rights; this blog furthers that narrow minded and selfish trend while crying “WOLF!” all the time. A grain of truth in these tirades full of shortsightedness should not be taken as good insight.
    Public employees are not sucking on the “TIt” but serving for the common good at sub par wages and deserve just compensation, unions are the workers united striving for fairness in the workplaces; unions reformed an exploitive working environment…they benefit all of society.

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