Bill Aimed at Reducing Public Pension Costs Passes Oregon Senate on Bipartisan Vote

Public employees would pick up part of their pension costs under Senate Bill 1049. They are not happy.

(Justin Katigbak)

The Oregon Senate today passed Senate Bill 1049, a measure aimed at reducing the current cost of paying down the state's unfunded public pension liability, by a 16-12 margin.

Although Democratic leaders, Sen. Peter Courtney (D-Salem) and House Speaker Tina Kotek (D-Portland), sponsored the bill and Democrats control the Senate by an 18 to 12 margin over Republicans, today's vote did not fall along party lines.

Of the 16 "yes" votes, 13 were Democrats and three were Republicans; of the 12 "no" votes, seven were Republicans and five were Democrats. (Two Republican senators, Jackie Winters (R-Salem) and Alan Olsen (R-Canby), were excused.)

Most of the savings from SB 1049 come from lengthening the payment period for the PERS system's $27 billion liability. That move, effectively an accounting gimmick, will save the government agencies paying PERS assessments about twice as much as two other components of the bill: allowing retirees to come back to work but paying the pension payments they might otherwise have earned into the liability; and compelling public employees to pick up part of the cost of their pensions.

That latter condition is highly unpopular with public employees, who don't currently contribute to their pensions.

"The Oregon Senate has voted to reduce the retirement security and compensation for educators, firefighters and all public employees," John Larson, President of the Oregon Education Association said in a statement. "These unfair and illegal reductions are a betrayal of Oregon values. The Oregon House should vote no to avoid another expensive and lengthy PERS lawsuit."

The bill now moves to the House for consideration.

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