Representative Matt Wingard: Runaway transit benefits

2009 Legislature Passed Bill Allowing Agency to Raise Payroll Taxes

Watch KATU’s July 16 investigation to TriMet’s benefits

SALEM”” Rep. Matt Wingard (R-Wilsonville) today called on the House to hold interim hearings on TriMet and its escalating fringe benefits costs. The agency, which was recently granted legislative authority to raise payroll taxes, is cutting services to Metro-area residents while paying over $150 million in unsustainable fringe benefits to employees and their dependents. “On behalf of taxpayers and TriMet passengers, it’s time to hold the agency accountable for its inability to manage its finances and deliver services in a fiscally sustainable manner,” Rep. Wingard said. “The agency and the transit union should be given an opportunity to explain why they are raising taxes while paying more in employee benefits than wages. Because the Legislature has the ability to authorize payroll tax increases, and the Governor appoints members to the TriMet Board, legislative hearings on this issue are appropriate.”
Like the State of Oregon , TriMet pays 100 percent of their employees’ health benefits costs. Despite a $31 million deficit, TriMet’s benefits package is considered the most generous among all transit agencies in the nation.

“TriMet pays $1,932 per month for health care for every current and retired employee – by far the highest of any transit district in the nation,” Rep. Wingard said. “As long as TriMet fails to address these escalating costs, the agency will continue to generate deficits and cut services to the thousands of riders who depend on TriMet for their daily transportation.”

Watch Rep. Wingard’s May 27 debate on TriMet, SB 34

In May, the Legislature passed Senate Bill 34 to give TriMet the authority to raise their area payroll taxes by 14.3 percent. With high unemployment and expensive fringe benefits, Rep. Wingard said the agency should pursue savings and reforms before it completes the process of raising taxes.

“There’s no reason that TriMet should be raising taxes and operating the most generous health care package in the county at a time when the Metro area’s unemployment rate exceeds 12.3 percent,” Rep. Wingard said. “The Legislature should bring TriMet, the union and others to Salem where taxpayers and passengers can learn whether the agency is truly committed to bringing these unsustainable costs under control.”