The New York Times regularly finds lots to love in Oregon: beer, beards, bikes, books and baristas, among other features.
But on the front page of Sunday's Times is a less positive story and one nobody in Salem seems to be able to fix: the $25 billion unfunded liability of the Public Employees Retirement System.
The growing costs of funding that system, which fall on every public employer in the state, are gradually crowding out other government services such as education, public safety and social services.
The story leads with the eye-popping pension that Dr. Joe Robertson, the recently-retired president of Oregon Health & Sciences University takes home—$76,111 a month, or $913,332 a year. Robertson's pension, of course, is not representative of the average PERS recipient, who in 2015 received an annual pension of $32,300 according to state figures.
"Oregon now has fewer police officers than in 1970, is losing foster-care workers at an alarming rate and has allowed earthquake and tsunami preparations to lapse. A 2016 survey turned up "a large number of bridges with critical and near-critical conditions" because of 'longstanding inadequate funding,'" the Times reports.
Gov. Kate Brown convened a task force to look for ways of reducing the state's unfunded pension liability. The group considered selling state assets and other fixes for a problem that primarily relates to so-called "tier 1 members," who were hired before Jan. 1, 1996 and enjoy the most generous benefits.
The most concrete steps to come out of that task force were two modest bills passed in this year's short session that would set aside state funds to begin paying down the liability for school districts and would also create a matching fund to encourage locals to set aside funds to pay down their liabilities.
The Oregonian maintains a searchable database of PERS beneficiaries here.