REDMOND, OR -- PERS reform continues to be a hot topic in Salem. Senate Bill 1049 narrowly passed the State Senate last week, and received its first reading in the House Tuesday. That same day, about a dozen teachers rallied on the steps of the State Capitol to oppose this latest legislative effort. It's also opposed by other groups, including firefighters unions.
Like other public employees, Redmond Schools Superintendent Mike McIntosh is a member of the Public Employees Retirement System. He admits the bill isn’t perfect, but says something must be done to address skyrocketing costs paid by public employers, "If PERS is going to sink education and sink our first responder services because they can’t figure out how to balance the budget to pay for those things, we have to figure out something different. I’m an advocate that says, ‘those of us that are members shouldn’t be relying solely on PERS for our retirement plan,’ because to believe that will be all you need is probably not fair anyway. I think we have to take responsibility and say ‘there’s got to be a solution'."
McIntosh tells KBND News PERS is a useful recruiting tool, and changing the benefits package could lead to fewer people applying for traditionally low-paying public jobs, "There’s always been an argument that the benefits are what attract people to my industry. So, there will be an impact – I don’t know how great. How do you measure that impact? But, if the retirement benefit is subject to change that would negatively affect an individual, there would be potentially a lesser capacity to attract great people and pay them what we can afford to pay them."
SB 1049 does little to address the system's nearly $27 billion deficit, but it extends the payment schedule used by employers who are required to fund the pension account for each employee. McIntosh says the change would ease some of the pressure on his district’s budget, if approved, "The reality is, that would be holding it steady or minimize the growth; versus, what appears to be astronomical growth on an annual basis, to cover the PERS liability on the unfunded liability." He adds, "We believe that’s going to be a helpful thing for school districts, as we try to manage the cost of PERS. Our retirement system is expensive for the employer. That’s been the driver of our deficit budget for a long time, is trying to cover those PERS costs on behalf of our employees."