2013 Legislature Considers Changes to PERS
Governor John Kitzhaber has stated that reforming the Public Employees Retirement System (PERS) is one of the highest priorities of the Oregon Legislature’s 2013 Legislative Session, and the issue has received much attention from the media and the public. The governor has put forth three proposals that would affect current and future retirees:
- Limiting the Cost of Living Adjustments (COLA) for current and future public employee retirees to the first $24,000 of annual benefits
- Changing the six percent employee contribution statute to allow employers to negotiate contributions ranging from zero to six percent
- Eliminating the additional benefits paid to PERS members to compensate for state taxation for those who live out-of-state and don’t pay Oregon state income tax
ONA is very concerned about the impact that these changes would have on nurses in public service. Roughly 20 percent of ONA members are public employees and eligible to participate in PERS. We know that the unfunded liability that PERS has faced is not a result of providing fair benefits to public employees, but is caused by the Wall Street greed that led to the financial collapse of 2008.
Despite these challenges, PERS remains one of the most stable and best funded public retirement systems in the nation. Many nurses and other professionals who have devoted their careers to public service have carefully planned for their retirement based on the current PERS system.
The proposed changes to PERS are being highly lauded by Oregon’s private employers who are most interested in weakening their contribution to retirement accounts for their employees. Previous attempts to reform PERS have been found unconstitutional on the grounds that the changes would break promises made to current retirees, and the Legislature’s attorneys have already deemed the Governor’s current COLA proposal unconstitutional.
ONA will be following these proposed changes closely and working to ensure that any legislation passed meets the following key criteria.
First, any changes to PERS must be fair to nurses and other public employees who are PERS members and depend upon these benefits in their retirement years. While we know that the Legislature is working toward a balanced budget, we do not want to see PERS members unfairly targeted for a problem that was created by Wall Street and have the benefits that they have worked hard for taken away. Second, we also want to ensure that any changes that are made are constitutional and do not end up costing the state millions in litigation fees while keeping PERS members hanging in the balance.
We will keep you informed throughout the Legislative Session about the proposed changes to PERS, and will be working closely with our members who will be most directly impacted by any changes, as well as with other organizations who share our concerns.
We also encourage you to contact your legislators to tell them how important PERS is to Oregon’s publicly employed nurses, and let them know that you stand with ONA in supporting your fellow nurses in receiving the retirements benefits that they have been promised.