by Jeff Kropf
Why would a former state legislator like me oppose the Governors “Grand Bargain” when my small businesses would save thousands of dollars in taxes from its tax cuts? Is it because Republicans are caving on their principles and joining Democrats in raising taxes on the poor and elderly? Or, is it because it would give a boost to Governor Kitzhaber’s expected re-election campaign?
Actually it is neither.
It’s because it doesn’t solve the PERS problem that is robbing teachers from classrooms, taking cops and firefighters off the streets and causing criminals to be released, all of which hurts Oregonians. This back room deal only kicks the can down the road.
This is especially true when you consider that Democrats and their union bosses are counting on Oregon judges, (enrolled in PERS) throwing out the savings in this deal, leaving the damage to Oregonians continuing into the future.
While the “Grand Bargain” has some redeeming qualities such as desperately needed small business tax cuts necessary to stimulate Oregon’s faltering economy and removing legislators (who have a conflict of interest as big as judges do) from PERS, it only puts a band aide on what is soon to be a hemorrhaging wound.
The current PERS unfunded liability is likely much higher than the state’s estimate of 14 Billion dollars according to a new report from State Budget Solutions (a think tank) which shows it as high as 75 Billion dollars. When the Federal Reserve stops printing money and the stock market declines, the PERS unfunded liability grows even larger, just like what happened in 2008.
I fear Republicans will have settled for a few crumbs from the table while allowing Governor Kitzhaber and the Democrats to escape blame for the PERS disaster.
The Governor is rightly worried that Oregonians who have given Democrats a pass for years on their ownership of PERS are now waking up and demanding it be fixed, which is why he has called for the special session. Governor Kitzhaber knows the PERS problem pits traditional Democrat allies against each other, hurting their candidates and possibly leading to long term political gains for Republicans.
Yet it if Republicans give Democrats cover on PERS and raising taxes on the poor and elderly, then nothing will change in the minds of the voters and Republicans will have missed their chance to bring long term change to Oregon’s politics.
PERS is a long term problem that requires a long term political solution which will only be possible when voters figure out that they must elect judges, legislators and governors who solve the problem for the good of Oregon. Republicans helping pass a “Grand Bargain” will not make that a reality.
Jeff Kropf is a fifth generation Oregon farmer who served 8 years in the Oregon House of Representatives and did not enroll in PERS because of his belief it was a conflict of interest.