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Thursday, November 12, 2009

Keisling on PERS: It ain't pretty

An alert reader has sent me what appears to be a draft of a report by former Oregon Secretary of State Phil Keisling on the future of the state's public employee pension system. And the news is most definitely not good. Keisling confirms what the O told us a few weekends ago: that more and more tax dollars will have to be poured into the maw of the bureaucrat retirement machine, and soon. Unless taxes go way up to cover the increased expenses, government services are going to face some serious cuts. And there's a bunch of outstanding debt in the picture -- bonds that, unlike most private parties' debts, have ever-increasing annual payments as the years wear on. Maybe the feds will inflate our way out of this one, but that $20 loaf of bread is going to be hard to afford.

Of course, Keisling's greatest fear is that the state pension system might some day wind up being less than 60% funded. Up here in Portland, we laugh at that number. Our police and fire pensions are 0% funded. The current unfunded liability for the cops and firefighters is more than $2½ billion, and growing every year.

Comments (80)

The interesting question coming from this document is not what it says (essentially that IF investments don't come through then government will have to pay more for PERS), but why. That is why is Phil Keisling, out of office for about 10 years now, and as he admits not an expert on any of this stuff, producing a 56 page think piece on PERS?

Is he running for office? What office, governor? Doing it out of a sense of civic duty? Or is he just bored.

Oh, taxes will go up. Don't worry about that. One thing that won't happen is public unions being asked to sacrifice any of their pension benefits, affordable or no.

You know, I was born in Oregon, and I love it here. It's just in my veins and whenever I've gone elsewhere the certitiude that Oregon is my home has never left me. But as I get older, I'm not sure how much more I can take. Particularly in Portland itself.

Our public management is just more and more irresponsible, and yet costs more to maintain. They can't say "no" to any project or interest group. Everything coming out of the city and Metro smacks of social engineering by people with double the education, and half the common sense.

I guess I'm destined for a move out to the exurbs, or even a move to Washington state. The blah blah blah about density and bikes and ecoroofs from know-it-all 24-year-olds is just a din that I can't get out of my head any more.

Two comments to Greg C.

1. I think you're over-simplifying what Phil's piece says. According to the piece, it is almost certain that the state will have an additional $1.5 billion PERS bill during the next biennium, regardless of what the stock market does the rest of this year.

2. Phil says he is definitely not running for governor. And if he were, writing a thoughtful piece like this wouldn't be a very good strategy. No one ever got elected governor of Oregon by being smart.

The Original Bob W

I remember a proposal from a few years ago that would have terminated PERS, freezing the accounts and resulting liability. It's time to reconsider that proposal.

Oregon burned thru $700M (tobacco settlement) and >$1B (stimulus) and the taxpayers didn't see anything extra in schools or services, so you know where it went. And they're still short.

Once the tax increase goes down in flames, I'm sure they'll angle for some more charges since the public employee unions will never agree to give backs or bigger contributions to PERS to amke up the diff.

"I think you're over-simplifying what Phil's piece says. According to the piece, it is almost certain that the state will have an additional $1.5 billion PERS bill during the next biennium, regardless of what the stock market does the rest of this year."

I don't really disagree. As a result of the relatively short time lines PERS uses to calculate the average rate of return, when the stock market goes up PERS contributions by local government go down and vice versa. Recently the market has gone down. (And remember Keisling goes out of his way several times to say he is not an expert on PERS funding.)

I still think however that the real mystery here is why Keisling and why now.

Give up my benefits?

You're out of your frikkin' mind?

Many of the benefits were offered us in lieu of pay raises.

If Snards pays back all of the pay raises he got over the past twenty years....then I'll consider giving up my PERS benefits.

Until then, he needs to know that even with the slipshod offers which public management has made over that time...I've lost ground. I've been topped out of my pay category for years and the only raise I've gotten is totally inadequate 'cost-of-living' (poorly) increases.

Y'know...I get sick of how all these jerkface nimwits in the "private sector" who natter on and on about the "sanctity of a contract" until they see an opportunity to deny somebody else their due by violating the sanctity of the contract which was made with them...just because they are public employees.

There was an excellent program on OPB the other day on Think Outloud about this topic. No real solutions but an excellent discussion not the less.

"I get sick of how all these jerkface nimwits"

OK, what's your solution for a poorly designed PERS system where contributions have nothing to do with payouts? It's like the village idiot promised you something and now he can't deliver, so Daddy has to pay up.

Right now, benefits are a topline item even if it means a 4-day long school year.

Take it out of the hides of the people who screwed it up...the insurance and finance executives. In the private sector.

Look...Ten years ago, PERS was all the rage about how forward looking it that the financial services sector has vomited all over us and themselves, suddenly we're not covered.

A contract is a contract and anybody trying to jerk the carpet out from those who've paid in to it for years are gonna get their ears clipped....what's there is the result of an open contract. A contract negotiated in large part by a Republican of sterling reputation...Victor Atiyeh.

You can't get blood from a stone. If essential services are cut too far, PERS beneficiaries are going to take a hit. You'll get paid in "scrip." Alternatively, a taxpayer rebellion is not out of the question.

I still think however that the real mystery here is why Keisling and why now.

It ain't about Keisling, friend. Nice try, though.

And guess what folks ... Almost all those new taxes you're voting on in January will get sucked up by PERS.

Soon our motto will change again from "We love dreamers" to "I'm paying more than a billion in new taxes, to buy my 1st grade teacher some daiquiris."

When will Tier-one PERS members make up less than 50 percent of the public employee bargaining units? The "report" says there are still 65,000 Tier-one PERS members that are still working. Politics is still driven by self-interest, and the OEA will likely remain in the driver's seat even as it transforms into the premier anti-Tier-one lobby.

You know, I've read through Kiesling's report many times. I've had it for awhile. One of the problems that Kiesling faces is his woeful ignorance of how the PERS system works. His solution is to negotiate system changes with the unions. He acts as if the entire system were negotiable but he forgets that the system was put into place by legislators who have changed the system so many times that it is impossible for anyone to fully understand how it works. But he makes fundamental errors that concern me because these are the simple things that no one should misunderstand in criticizing PERS. For example, public employees don't *choose* money match as their retirement option. PERS does the choosing and regardless of the result the employee may want, PERS picks the benefit that it believes will pay the highest pension, period, end of story. Second, sick leave is not included in Money Match. The only place sick leave is relevant is in determining the final average salary for the Full Formula (the defined benefit that does not depend at all on account balance). The 6% pickup was presented the unions as a fait accompli in 1979 when inflation was running at 10-12%. The unions wanted 10% ATB raises; the public employers didn't have the money to pay that so Atiyeh came up with the idea of paying employees in pre-tax benefits by picking up the 6%. When the unions tried to reject the pickup and argue for salary increases, the bargainers for the public employers, chiefly the State of Oregon basically said, take it or leave it; it is this or nothing. So to claim that this can just be negotiated away ignores much history and assumes that the unions had something to do with this being in the contract in the first place. Lots of my colleagues objected to the pick up as a chintzy way out of a structural problem. The benefit structure of PERS is embedded in statute and has been ruled part of the PERS contract by the Oregon Supreme Court in the Hughes decision, the OSPOA decision, and reiterated in the Strunk decision. This isn't something that is going to be negotiated away.

Kiesling's report would have been far better if he had bothered to talk to someone who actually understood the system. He might have started with Jim Voytko, the former director who resigned in 2003. He probably got much of his advice and information from fellow Junto member Greg Macpherson whose creative solutions to the PERS problems in 2003 actually made the problem worse rather than better. They had the opportunity then to convert all new employees to a straight DC plan. Instead, they created a hybrid DC/DB plan that is only slightly less generous than the one it replaced. No version of HB 2020 (Macpherson's 'new' plan ever had a straight DC structure). He blew it then.

Whenever the PERS plan is discussed, it is always in the abstract without any historical consideration of how it got to be the way it is today. Each piece of the system was a rube goldberg fix by one legislature to close a loophole created by a previous legislature. Oregon Chapter 238 and 238a (the PERS statutes) currently run slightly less than 80 pages long. I defy anyone to go through them and understand how each piece of the system works. And don't you believe for a moment that the employees and the unions had much to do with those 80 pages. Sure, a few pages here and there stem from employee and union lobbyists, but those aren't the parts that are causing the fiscal circumstances.

If the Oregon Investment Council hadn't gotten so hung up on hedge funds, currency arbitrage, and some suspicious support for a variety of private equity firms that aren't pure hedge funds, the damage might have been less.

In short, Kiesling is barking up many wrong trees and he's demonizing the public employees and their unions when he should be looking at the legislature and the self-interest there that put many of these rules into effect to benefit themselves.

Just remember that people who work for public employers (except OUS and OHSU) have NO choice about their retirement plan, where their money goes, and basically get it whether they want it or not.

"from those who've paid in to it for years"

That's the problem, its a defined benefit program. Even if your contributions are way short, you'll get your the avg of you last 3 yrs of pay (with overtime and vacation) for life.

Of course, the taxpayer and school-children are the ones stuck with making up for it.

To those who have suggested that terminating the PERS system is an option, you might consider the cost of doing that. The IRS requires that employees be made whole at the time of the termination. During the 2003 Legislature, a couple of financial analysts and pension experts ran the numbers using some rather conservative assumptions. Essentially doing this now would be to move the unfunded actuarial liability forward to now and require it be paid out to members immediately. I believe the price tag for doing that was somewhere in the neighborhood of $19 billion dollars plus the value of all the liquidated assets, less the transaction costs. Much of the PERS fund is in illiquid equities that cannot be valued - mortage backed securities, leveraged buyout equity. The state would have to borrow so much money to terminate the system that its credit rating would plummet. Even the bond-rating agencies got into the act in 2003 and explained that Oregon's debt would be rated as junk if they tried to do this.

In effect, they did terminate the system. Tier 1 and Tier 2 members no longer see contributions to their Tier 1/Tier 2 accounts. Employer contributions are there simply to hold the line on still growing (or shrinking) Tier 1 and Tier 2 accounts, and to support the new Tier 3 OPSRP. The employEE money, whether paid for the employee or by the employee goes into an Individual account program that has no match and no guarantee. Phil doesn't even go there to discuss how that works.

Tier 1 members make up 45% of the system and their numbers are declining annually on the order of 4%-5% per year. Most Tier 1 members will be retired in 10 years, but the real concern is with Tier 2. That's the hidden time bomb in the PERS system. Those folks have no 8% guarantee, but they also don't have any upper bound on what their accounts can earn. Because they assume all the risk, their accounts were credited with big numbers during the halcyon years of 2003-2008 (first half). Their losses during 2008-early 2009 were large, but have nearly been completely erased by the PERS fund performance in 2009. They are up about 14% for the year. If you want to worry, worry about how big the Tier 2 accounts will get. Of course, Tier 2 only has earnings on a non-growing corpus since 1/1/2004. But since their IAP (individual plans) are also growing at the same rate as Tier 2 accounts, they are the hidden place for astronomical growth.

While everyone focuses on Tier 1 as the driver of the system, most lose sight of the structure of Tier 2. Also, the Tier 3 isn't a bad deal either since it includes a guaranteed defined benefit plan that pays 1.45% of final average salary for each year of service, plus the account value of the individual plan.

If anyone understood how all these pieces worked together, they'd be hard-pressed to come up with a legal solution to a complex problem that has only been made worse (for the public) everytime the legislature touches it. Indeed, everything the legislature touches turns into solid-gold turds. I guess you get what you pay for with a part-time legislature.

Godfry, you are clueless. In the private sector (I know, you hate that) when someone is deemed too expensive for a pay raise, they don't get to rely on PERS as a consolation prize...they get fired, and chances are they get fired from a job with no pension to begin with. For one, I'm tired of the entitlement mentality coming from PERS recipients and public employees in general. You never had to worry about job security, health insurance, the stability of your employer, or ever getting fired. Once hired, most of you go to sleep and make almost as much on the back of taxpayers once you retire. You are the pigs at the trough waiting for someone from the private sector to bring you another bucket of slop. Until you die.

Just ask Randy "Two Scoops" Leonard.

The children aren't getting educated, but...a contract is a contract, right?

Once, just once, I'd like a public employee to chime in on this forum and acknowledge the great gifts they've been given...

And happy retirement, you dips**t.


You misunderstand again how the system works. You write: "That's the problem, its a defined benefit program. Even if your contributions are way short, you'll get your the avg of you last 3 yrs of pay (with overtime and vacation) for life."

Not true: the final average salary is the highest 36 months in the last 10 years of employment including the value of overtime and, in some cases, the value of half the accumulated sick leave. But that determines the base salary, not the direct benefit. The direct benefit is a simple formula: 1.67% x Years of Service x Final Average Salary. So the most anyone could get under the formula would be approximately 50% of FAS. That is a long way from getting the FAS as a retirement benefit. Few people actually get the FAS in retirement. The only ones who do might be people who either (1) worked for more than 30 years and have a huge account balance and/or (2) took some risks along the way and invested some fraction (25%, 50%, or 75%) in the variable account (an account that consists of 100% equities). For the money invested in the variable, there is NO GUARANTEE. You get what the variable account earns, positive, negative, or neutral. During the latter part of the 1990's and the early part of the new decade, up to 18% of PERS retirees were earning more than 100% of their final salary, NOT THEIR FINAL AVERAGE SALARY. That number is now down to about 3% of retirees. The typical retiree with 30 years only gets about 80% of FAS and this is declining every year since 2005.

Please, get your facts straight before posting patently incorrect information. It is hard enough to deal with correct information; it is nearly impossible to fight bald-faced misrepresentations.


Your remarks are downright offensive. You have no idea why people choose to work in the public sector and your characterization of it - and the private sector - is a caricature. I worked 34 years in higher education. At no time did I ever take my job for granted. We didn't get raises for occupying space. We got raises for being productive - publishing articles, getting grants and contracts that benefit the university, teaching, advising, and counseling thousands of students. Serving on committees that exposed you to legal liability. Getting tenure was no cakewalk - I'd challenge any non-academic to try walking that gauntlet. Moreover, in Oregon, higher education faculty are not valued. Even taking into account the great retirement plan, when I retired in 2002, my salary was about 90% of my final salary, 85% of my FAS. I didn't complain about my retirement account, BUT - and this is a big one - my salary as a faculty member and as a Department Chair, and all my benefits combined left me 25% lower than the private schools in the Portland area, and the public institutions across the state line in Washington. If we get CA in the act, my salary and benefits were about 35% lower than my equivalent in CA schools. In WA, they get 60% of final average salary for a 30 year career. Their retirement benefits in dollars still exceed my retirement benefits in dollars even under a less generous system.

So to insinuate, or worse still, to state that we are all lazy pigs at the trough is an unseemly, repugnant, and unsubstantiable slur on all public employees. It is also an ad hominem specifically against Godfry. I wish Jack would ban you for this conduct.

I'm with Snards. Portland city and Oregon state governments are going to meltdown just as California has melted down fiscally. The PEW report listing Oregon as risking a fiscal meltdown had one big thing wrong. Oregon's problem is not a lack of tax base. Oregon's problem is more than a decade of growing government spending and obligations at more than twice the rate of inflation, and far in excess of growth in family incomes. The rich (read that tax base) are leaving for Southwest Washington to avoid the coming tax hikes. Even PERS retirees are heading to Washinton state. Real estate is still in the gutter in Clark County. So, if you're a retiree with a good pension, this is probably a good time to sell off your home in Oregon and head a few miles north.

A couple of other reasons are Portland's water and sewer bills could go up sharply from already elevated levels because of EPA regulations and harbor superfund charges for cleaning up the river. In summary, Portland is high-priced-eye- candy on track for a serious financial gut check (read that in Hockey terms...up against the boards).

Doesn't the Oregon PERS statute provide that the program may be terminated by the legislature by paying beneficiaries the present value of their accounts, not the present value of the projected future value? The system has been gamed & looted for decades by employee unions who arranged to control both sides of the "collective bargaining". Wasn't 'Money Match' created in the 60s as a transitional and temporary program, but left intact as a time bomb to give a lucky group a windfall when the stars aligned in the late 90s? Someday we'll have an honest supreme court that will treat PERS with the same deference that the federal courts give the Social Security promises, or the peasants will revolt. The system was designed to provide approximatey 67% of final salary (not loaded with overtime, "sick time," last 3 year sinecures, etc.), and anything in excess of that is bogus. I'll stand by now for the wave of whining by PERS entitlement queens.

Let's face it, PERS pensions are platinum-plated compared to what normal workers get. There is a lot of anger in the general population about that, and it isn't going to go away, ever. When the public employee unions throw their weight around, as they did with Greg Macpherson and are about to do with Mesaures 66 and 67, people are going to scream about it. And the screams are going to get louder. It is not inconceivable that the platinum-plated promises are not going to be fully honored. For example, a large-scale tax protest over this could not easily be overcome. There won't be enough money for the requisite jail space.

As for the childish behavior on this post, it was godfry who started the name-calling and ought to be banned, if anyone.


The fact is that many, many private sector employees work a lifetime with no PERS or other system to fall back on (social security is a pittance and going broke). Private employer contributions to 401k's come and go, and private workers are left to plan and fend for themselves...and rightly so. Public employees have a huge advantage here (on the backs of the private sector), so I get very agitatated when I hear you all get so worked up about PERS and how it's a "contract" and all that nonsense that you feel you are entitled to. I'm sorry you had to retire at 90% of your final salary.

When the "taxpayer rebellion" starts, I'll be right there, because the system is broken and very unfair. I'm sorry my words were too much for you to hear.

PD's comments about State workers having having permanent jobs is not accurate. I worked at OSU for 16 years and all of the people in my department worked on one year contracts. If someone wanted us gone, they didn't have to fire us. Our contracts simply were not renewed. Typically we didn't know until May or June whether we would have a job in July.

Furthermore, of the 10 people in my section, only two were on state money. For the rest, I had to hustle work from corporations to generate income to pay wages and benefits.

People in this country take a lot things for granted. The water is safe to drink. You can walk through most towns without fear of being robbed. Roads and bridges are safe. Why do you think so many countries send their children to the US for an education? Public employees make all of these things possible. Most of us passed on better paying jobs in the private sector because Oregon offered a respectable retirement benefit.

So to insinuate, or worse still, to state that we are all lazy pigs at the trough is an unseemly, repugnant, and unsubstantiable slur on all public employees. It is also an ad hominem specifically against Godfry. I wish Jack would ban you for this conduct.

Lazy pigs???

Poor fellow - BFH.

Lazy pigs wouldn't bother to reflexively trot out the sheer volume of chaff that you do. Methinks thou protesteth too much. Unseemly, repugnant, and unsubstantiable are all terms that your benefactors - the majority of taxpayers not basking in the glow of PERS retirement benefits - might justifiably apply to your self-righteous, self-serving rant of entitlement to those same benefits.

Like it or not, your presumption of inviolable privilege will not survive a meltdown of state finances. The same reality with which most of us must deal will inconveniently intrude on your sanctimonious construct of "fairness".

At your age, you really should know better. Perhaps your tenure in the halls of academe has rendered you a teensy bit myopic.

Wouldn't be the first time.

I guess the nauseating rhetoric on both sides of this will continue. To call PERS pensions "respectable" is like saying that Michael Jordan was a "respectable" ballplayer. And we're all grateful to the people who protect our water system, roads, etc. But the question is how much they're worth from a monetary standpoint.

All of the retirement experts state that middle-class Americans aren't saving enough for retirement, and that defined contribution (401k) plans are pitifully lacking in the ability to provide for retirement. So, of course, the proper response is:


How about providing enough retirement income for everyone through pension plans, rather than take away retirement benefits from fellow middle-class people out of sheer, unadulterated envy?

People seem to have lost sight of the fact that the chief reason tier 1 retirees have a decent retirement if they work 30 years is due to the performance of the Oregon Investment council. It certainly wasn't because of the meager wages I was earning in 1973.

To move this discussion back to the real world, I suggest reading the latest copy of PERS by the numbers published by PERS.

For what it's worth, the interesting compendium of PERS documents to which CoastGuy's name is linked includes an enlightening in-house history of 50 years of PERS written in 1997, when the great inflation of benefits was getting underway. The history is written from the beneficiaries' perspective, but it contains several references to the expected benefits as a fraction of salary. In 1964 it was noted that the plan was to provide 50% of the average of the last 5 years' salary at age 65 with 30 years' service (p 17); a 1967 proposal was for Social Security and PERS combined to provide 50% of final salary after 30 years service (p 19), and in an OSEA questionnaire in 1972, one beneficiary, an accountant, expressed a wish that her pension, plus Social Security, would total 80%-85% of final salary (p 25). This gives an honest picture of the beneficiaries' expectations while they were working. And a 1994 State study found overall compensation for state employees about equal to those in the private sector, with salary a bit lower and pensions a bit higher (p 30) - this, before the enormous inflation of benefits resulting from union power in negotiations. The State supreme court then threw out reasonable reforms passed by the voters in 1994, relying on a flawed contractual analysis, and the money match bomb went off at the end of the decade. The coming employer contributions in the range of 25% of salary are not sustainable and either benefits should be capped in the range of 67% (a generous estimate of the promised benefit), or the plan should be terminated & beneficiaries be paid the present value of their accounts.

This discussion sure makes me glad that I am only 25 years old.

I would hate to put my trust in PERS for 20+ years for it to fall like the deck of cards it is.

Then again, if there is a tax payer revolt, I will be a willing participant.

Why pay into a system that I will never get anything out of?

Sometimes, survival and self-interest are one and the same. I see some 65 year old wanting to live his 75k/year lifestyle with the RV, eating out 3 times a week @ places like the Saucebox, and a second home off of my pay check as a very threat to my survival and the well being of my offspring.

If you are not paying for your retirement from a 401k, savings, and/or personal investments, then you are NOT getting what you put in. You are getting more off of the working folk like myself who work 5 days a week 10 pm to 6am with little hope for ever seeing the benefits of Medicare, catastrophic health insurance coverage from my current employer where it costs me $75 to 100 just to get my teeth cleaned and checked, and very little hope that Social Security will "work itself" out.

Have a nice retirement. It won't last long.

A quick look at the figures in CoastGuy's latest post above is instructive, too. On the surface, an average pension of 55% of FAS for all retirees 1990-2008 might look like it fits well within the 67% average generously considered to have been promised to employees, but that apparently includes many short-timers. The figure for 30-year retirees has not been below 80% of FAS since 1996, and was in the 90%+ range for many years, peaking at 100% (average!) - the average for 1996-2008 was 89% of FAS, and FAS itself is inflated by additions of generous sick time & other augmentations. Moreover, it would be interesting to see how the average last three years' salary compares to, say, the last 10 years' average; ordinary employees can't generally benefit from scams enjoyed by legislators who cash in with highly-paid sinecures for three years after years of legislative service, to boost their pensions, but as I say, a look would be interesting. In addition, the document shows a full 66% of beneficiaries are still using money match in 2008, the program that was intended as a one-time correction over 40 years ago. It is these twelve years (and counting) of profligacy, locked in until the beneficiaries die, that drive the coming bankruptcy and 25%+ employer contributions. You can see from the numbers that the sponsors of the 1994 reforms saw the train wreck coming, but the Supreme Court, beneficiaries of a separate but similar pension scheme, refused to do the math & let the wreck happen. The Constitution has always been an elastic document in the hands or our Court.

The judges are all PERS beneficiaries, right? How can they not recuse themselves? But then who would hear the case -- the Idaho Supreme Court? Federal court?

I've had it on good authority that it's technically a different plan, but differs largely in name - If I'm mistaken on this, I'd gladly be corrected by anyone who knows better.

Jack: Judges are in a different system than the regular folks. The Judges get a defined benefit based on salary, years of service, and a percentage of income for each year of service worked.

The judges are PERS beneficiaries, the Legislators are PERS beneficiaries, PERS employees are PERS members/beneficiaries. The judges have been on a separate plan for quite some time. The legislators have been in with the regular folk for quite awhile, although at the end of the 2003 legislature, they were removed from the regular plan and moved into a plan more like the judges.

Terminating the plan requires that employees be paid the present value of their accounts, which includes some features that are deemed contractual. The actuarial analyses done by independent actuaries, not those working for PERS, were the ones coming up with the $19 billion figure for the borrowing needed for a one time buyout of PERS members accounts. The legislature and the bonding agencies decided it wasn't something they wanted to do.

Coastguy and I and several other people collaborated to put together the library you people now know about and have access to.

Morbius. You can cherry pick data all day. There are lots of areas within the public sector that pay well-below average for both the private sector and for the public sector in other states. Higher education is one of them. The employers always asserted that we shouldn't worry about our low salaries (Oregon is in the lower quintile of faculty compensation, which includes the value of all benefits) because we'll have a good retirement plan.

Yes, it is true that the Money Match was enacted initially in the 1960s to correct for an inequity that affected primarily people who were hired at the beginning of the system's existence in the 1940's. It wasn't available again until 1981, when the Legislature, thinking it had been omitted for foolish reasons, brought it back when they introduced the Full Formula retirement, which had not been available prior to that.

I also second Coastguy's observation that the reason I retired with such a good set of benefits is that the Oregon Investment Council did a stellar job with its earnings from the early 1980's into the 21st century. 2008 was such an aberation that *nobody* could outperform the market. The deck was completely stacked.

I'm not suffering any delusions that PERS is inviolable. I'm merely stating that the Oregon Supreme Court has already ruled on many elements of the PERS system that simply can't be changed retroactively. And the system has already gotten away from some of the more noxious issues in the reform of 2003. They have terminated the system and brought it back in a different form. But there are transition costs and the Legislature knew this from the beginning. They tried to modify the terms of the retirement contract retroactively (i.e. redefine the meaning of the "guarantee" for regulars and retirees); the court just smacked them down. The Hughes decision of 1991 defined the logic of a proper analysis of PERS (or any other contract). The later decisions (OSPOA and Strunk) simply extended that logic.

I'm always struck by how people read things into pro-PERS rhetoric that isn't there. I never called anyone a "pig". I didn't ask for my PERS retirement system. It was the only one I got. I never negotiated for it; it was take it or leave it. I didn't EXPECT to retire at 85% of my FAS, because Money Match wasn't an option when I started the system. Money Match wasn't on anyone's radar until the early 1990s. The guarantee wasn't on anyone's radar until Bill Sizemore and Bob Tiernan and Alan Stonewall brought it to the Legislature's attention in 1993. Stonewall was correct that Money Match *could* be a problem; he was prophetic. But Stonewall, Sizemore, and Tiernan thought the way to beat the dealer was to try to change the system retroactively, which the court struck down (this was Measure 8 from the 1994 ballot). The court had just come off of the Hughes case and all its ramifications and had just laid down a process by which to determine whether a benefit was contractual and could not be changed retroactively, or not. Had Sizemore, Tiernan, and Stonewall understood that, they might have approached Measure 8 differently.

Also forgotten in all of this is how much the employers themselves are to blame for the latest increase in rates and how much the PERS Board was complicit. In an effort to keep employer rates artificially low, the Board bent over backwards to provide all kinds of mechanisms (asset smoothing, rate collars, 5 year amortization of losses etc). All these things do is to defer the pain of later decisions.

Why is it that whenever something goes wrong with PERS it is always the greedy employees and the greedy unions that are blamed? Why isn't the Legislature, the PERS Board, the Governor, and the whiny employers held in the same degree of contempt as people who worked hard most of their careers at relatively low pay to finally get to retire and collect all the deferred income over the life of their careers. After all, it wasn't me who chose PERS. It wasn't me who told me that I shouldn't worry about my low salary because I'll have a great retirement at the end.

I can tell you that if you buy into Kiesling's position paper, you will find that on a lot of key elements he's just plain wrong and fails to understand the system. He's going to fall into the same traps that others before him have fallen. Cherry pick what you want to change and you'll find out that is the least changeable element of the plan.

One possible change that should be explored is lowering the amount of the rate guarantee. Of course, that's also a fools errand because the same rate guarantee that currently gives members of Tier 1 an 8% guarantee on their regular accounts, is also the assumed interest rate at which employer dollars are expected to accumulate. If you lower the assumed rate, the employers will be expected to make up lost earnings with more dollars. So cutting the actuarial assumed interest rate will raise, not lower, the employers' bill. But the employers seem not to understand that this increase would be short-lived. After about 5 years at the higher rates, the rates will begin to fall. But employers are too short-sighted to recognize that and just blindly oppose anything that will raise their rates.

During the first years of this decade, employer rates were unbelievably low. Indeed for some employers their net rates were 0%. Why is no one questioning the fact that the employers did not sequester those savings away for the rainy day that would come if the market took a dive in future years. Did they too fail to understand the law of fiscal gravity. What goes up must also come down?

I'm disappointed that so many otherwise intelligent readers of this blog become so blinded by enmity and rage against public employees and (some of their) unions?


Having moved back down to my hometown after a decade in Oregon (3 years in Portland), I know for a fact that "public employees" are not underpaid.

The easiest targets are K-12 teachers who work 9 months out of the year, but are salaried through 12, have an enviable benefits package with full healthcare, and have a tax-payer paid-for pension.

A teacher in his/her first 9 months will pull in $38,541. If you count in the amount of money that the tax payer is putting in to cover his/her benefits and pension, it is closer to $50k per year.

That was for teachers. This is for "certificated management:"

Can someone please tell me what a K-12 "Project Specialist" is and why do they make close to $60k/year? Same question applies to "Coordinator."


How does one go about getting one of those public school jobs ? I'm so tired of working for peanuts, with no health insurance and no retirement. My father has a PhD, and doesn't make 60K a year.

Considering the appalling drop out rate and legions of sociopaths and illiterates that the schools in this sorry, corrupt backwater pump out, it looks like you can just go right to sleep on the job with no oversight or repercussions whatsoever.

Sounds perfect. Where do I sign up ?

"patently incorrect information."

OK, I stand corrected (even after your explanation it isn't the easiest to figure out), but the one point is that there is a loos connection between what is paid in and what is paid out in defined benefits. Almost all pensions plans otherwise are tied directly to how much you put in and the return earned.

What I am addressing is the gap and who makes it up. Why does it exclusively have to be the taxpayer or schoolchild and never the beneficiary? Why do we get these make-work jobs from Ted for ex-legislators that they can geme to juice up their retirement still if PERS has been "fixed"?

"Why do you think so many countries send their children to the US for an education?"

Why do you think so many people here want to send their kids to private schools now (including a lot of public school teachers)?

"If you lower the assumed rate, the employers will be expected to make up lost earnings with more dollars."

Now you're playing a shell game. There is no guaranteed 8% return anywheres. Its a question of pay it now or pay it later compounded.

That's why they call it defined benefits, the rate could be 0.5% or 50%, the beneficiary gets some multiple (I'm not even going to try to figure it out) of his salary, regardless of actual investment performance.

What shell game are you talking about Steve. The only way an employee gets a multiple of his salary is when he/she retires on the Full Formula. Under money match, which has been the driver, salary does not enter into the equation at all. The only thing that matters is the account balance and the employer match. The way pension obligations are figured (for all, not just PERS) is based on mortality factors, rate of growth of salary, earnings performance, years of service, employee demographics. Younger employees cost employers less money, at the beginning. The older they get, the more money the employers pay. This is true of every defined benefit plan on the planet. Employer rates are based on actuarial assumptions about what the portfolio can realistically earn. Around the country, actuaries make assessments of portfolios all the time and dtermine what the likely rate of return will be over a typical 30 year period. They almost all assume equities will earn between 7.5% and 8.5% over that time horizon and so the employer contribution must, in the end, make up at least 50% of the benefit (in PERS' case) no matter what the benefit distribution method (full formula, money match, formula plus annuity for some few members employed since before 1981). So, the math is simple. If the assumed earnings rate is 8% the employer contribution will be half what it would be if the assumed earnings rate was 4%. That assumed rate determines the "guarantee", the employer contribution rate, and the rate of expected earnings on the Benefits-in-Force reserve, which represents current obligations to retirees.

If you took away the guaranteed earnings rate, the employers would have to pay as the earnings were posted and it would vary all over the map. That's why employers do not like defined benefit plans. But money match isn't a defined benefit. It is a hybrid defined contribution since the program depends only on the combined earnings of the employer and the employee in the program. And that would have given employers a predictible, but significantly higher contribution rate. And remember, this feature (money match) is available to Tier 1 and Tier 2 retirees. The ONLY difference is that in a bad year, both employer and employee contributions earn the same thing. There is no guaranteed rate of return.

OK, lets make it simpler and I'll ask a question. If the actual rate of return falls below the 8%, who is on the hook for that failure?

The beneficiary (as in almost all non-gov pensions) or the taxpayer?

I mean its great if we really do have a historical return on equities of 8% (which means a doubling every 9 yrs or so), but that seems high. And with the revisions for Tier 2 employees (I think they don't have that guarantee any more), that the dunce who set this up in the first place realized it couldn't happen.

My point being, shouldn't a beneficiary be paid on the performance of his investments?

Mr. Fearless writes, after first taking a revealing cheap shot at Keisling ("his woeful ignorance" - as if):

"If anyone understood how all these pieces worked together, they'd be hard-pressed to come up with a legal solution to a complex problem that has only been made worse (for the public) everytime the legislature touches it. Indeed, everything the legislature touches turns into solid-gold turds."

So, I think I get it. Here's the argument for maintaining the status quo:

1) the situation is too complex for anyone but Mr. Fearless Professor to understand, therefore the poor ignorant taxpayers and legislature shouldn't tax our meager brains trying to fix it.

2) The retirement system created by the ignorant legislature, which provides lavish retirement benefits funded largely by current and future taxpayers, gets worse (i.e., a tiny bit less lavish and more complicated) everytime the legislature tries to fix it, so it's best just to leave it alone.


I make no pretense of understanding the PERS system in its entirety, but at least I've been trying to understand it by following it since 1993. I attend Board meetings, study every proposal that is put out and have testified before legislative subcommittees. That's a hell of a lot more than Kiesling, who starts his whole document by acknowledging that (a) he's no pension expert and (b) he only got interested in this earlier this year. So, I'm just a bit more knowledgeable about HOW PERS works than he is.

The legislature has made a series of attempts to "fix" PERS. The first fix they tried was in 1991 when they decided in response to a Supreme Court (US) case (Davis v Michigan) that they could no longer provide public employees with tax-free (from Oregon tax) benefits unless they gave the same benefits to all Federal retirees. Therefore the Legislature unthinkingly decided that as of October 1991, they would start taxing PERS benefits in the same way they taxed Federal benefits. This forced a showdown in the Oregon Supreme Court when the court ruled that Oregon had to follow federal law, which they were now doing, but could not do so by breaching the contract of public employees. In other words, it is OK to breach the contract if you repair the breach in some other way. Five years later, the Legislature finally got around to "fixing" the breach. How? They ended up giving PERS retirees a "benefit increment adjustment" to compensate them for the loss of the tax exemption. Then, to make matters worse, they handed the bill to pay for this not to the Oregon Treasury, which was getting the tax revenues from the public employee retirees, but to the employers. This little gift "HB3349" went into effect in 1997 and was the DIRECT cause of employer rates rising right then and there. It is a simple cause/effect relationship. Instead of sucking up the loss at the level of the state treasury, they laid it at the feet of all public employers. If I were a public employer, I would have been pissed to. This is the trigger that set in motion all the fights that started with the City of Eugene case and ended with the 2003 reforms. In 2003, despite being warned repeatedly that what they were proposing in HB 2001 would be disqualified by the Courts in whole or in part, the Legislature went ahead and threw the entire box of paint at the way to see what would stick. The two crucial money issues - the 8% guarantee, the attempt to freeze the COLA for retirees, and the withholding of earnings for Tier 1 members all went down in flames before the Supreme Court. There were other options proposed, but the Legislature decided to listen to vindictive employers. The second area where the Legislature had a chance and screwed up was when they created the new system "Tier 3" for employees beginning on or after 8/29/03. Instead of making the system strictly a defined contribution plan, as would have made sense, they ended up with Greg Macpherson's "PERS light", a variant of Tier 2 that preserves the most costly element of PERS - the defined benefit plan, and adds a defined contribution piece. They could have saved a tremendous amount of money and provided a decent system for new employees with a reasonably funded 401-K type plan. But the Legislature didn't. They took a system that was clearly not working as well as planned, and created more complexity and significantly less savings than they could have.

Need I say more? I'm not saying the system is unfixable. What I'm saying is that it isn't worthwhile to focus on changes that will be struck down by the courts when there are other options available that would be perfectly permissible.

from pdxnag:

The IRS' power over the state is limited to determining whether a plan continues to qualify so that future employee contributions to a plan gain favorable tax treatment on the employee's own tax filings.

The POBs should have been coupled with a release of liability. It was the only path that was allowed -- in my opinion -- legally. Failure to obtain a release not only made it unlawful but added a risk direct to public entities in their own accounts for private investments in violation of the Oregon Constitution. It is a continuing violation.

If the beneficiaries wanted to use conservative returns rather than the happy Goofy chartists' rosy returns then they could have raised the issue at that time. An airline bankruptcy case went into great detail about the conservative return assumption chosen by the PBGC (for a PRIVATE plan) that dramatically increased the size of the fund to be transfered by the private company to the PBGC. (Ah, but that all changed to embrace big risk at the PBGC when Charles E.F. Millard got a green light for recklessness.)

If PERS is terminated the liability is limited "to the extent that those benefits are funded." ORS 238.600, as amended in 1999 with complete legislative knowledge of court opinions that preceded enactment. Justice Gillette asked Mr. Baker at oral argument if PERS could be terminated. Mr. Baker had to answer yes, with specific reference to ORS 238.600. Even today if PERS is terminated the remaining balances from the proceeds of the POBs are not part of the fund, they are employer accounts (taxpayer accounts) entrusted to PERB and the OIC to cover "employer contributions," but deliverable only as they accrue regardless of whether a public employer issued POBs or not.

Any individual PERS member could insist that they would like to use a different trustee for their savings, even themselves. If they put it into an ordinary savings account then the IRS will tax it as ordinary income. No one is forced to commit their savings to any third-party. It is just an option.

Money Match functions like a margin account with an ordinary stock broker. You put up 50 percent and your broker lends you the other 50 percent. Except that there was zero risk to the client of a margin call, and the broker delivered twice the returns even when they had no investments that netted such return from which to deliver the return. Here from taxes alone. It was diabolical, and it worked. Some of the most painful provisions of legislation take up very few words, snuck in and sold as inconsequential. Judging by its popularity folks figured out the advantage it offered, some more so than others. It is not available to non-Tier-one PERS members.

My suggestion to non-Tier-one PERS member teachers is to insist that "employer contributions" be completely severed from the state "education" budget. The public's commitment to ongoing "education" and "the kids" should not be subject to having 25 percent or 50 percent or 75 percent of it carved off to pay for past legislatively designed unsound public pension plans and OIC investment folly. The legislature can create a separate entry in the budget for money that is administratively transferred from state revenue to the OIC, and from there either to Wall Street or to people who no longer provide any education services. It need not be funneled though school budgets.

"but to the employers"

Can we just cut to the quick and call them taxpayers instead?

steve asks: "OK, lets make it simpler and I'll ask a question. If the actual rate of return falls below the 8%, who is on the hook for that failure?"

For Tier 1 members, the employer (and ultimately the public) pays for the shortfall, but typically it is paid from reserves set aside for this purpose by PERS. For all other PERS members, the loss is shared equally between employee and employer.

A corollary question: when returns are in the 20% range who gets the money? the employer's money goes into a reserve that can be used to buy down rates (a foolish option I think), while the employee accounts are credited with actual earnings (Tier 2 and IAP). Tier 1 members currently only get 8% with the surplus going into reserves to cover those circumstances when the rate drops below 8%. PERS had been banking all the excess earnings generated in 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, and 2007. But foolishly, in 2006, they liquidated some of the reserves on the employer side to buy down the employer rates to practically nothing, while leaving themselves wide open when 2008 struck. The reserves on the employee side were liquidated because of the 8% Tier 1 requirement, but the employer rates didn't go up because of that. They went up because there was no money left in the employer reserves to cover the losses generated by 2008 high negative returns.

"when returns are in the 20% range who gets the money?"

Well, if we tied what we pay to beneficiaries to the actual return they earn - the beneficiaries. However, you talked about a historical 8% return, so, yes, you will have years where return is > 8%.

My point is that guaranteeing any return and disconnecting payouts from actual performance is eventually going to blow up, yet we keep putting these defined benefits programs thru for public employees like we never learned.

"Can someone please tell me what a K-12 "Project Specialist" is and why do they make close to $60k/year? Same question applies to "Coordinator."


It's simple. The public schools are good at producing only one thing: retirees.

Quality education is not even on the radar-screen. In Portland Public, the single largest expenditure is PERS, and I think we can all agree that that is a direct reflection on poor priorities and simple union greed.

Hey Gordo:

"All of the retirement experts state that middle-class Americans aren't saving enough for retirement, and that defined contribution (401k) plans are pitifully lacking in the ability to provide for retirement. So, of course, the proper response is:


How about providing enough retirement income for everyone through pension plans, rather than take away retirement benefits from fellow middle-class people out of sheer, unadulterated envy?"

The funny part is that you are probably all for higher taxes on the upper middle class and above. Don't even get me started about government sponsored health care. Why take away from those who can afford it there (taxes and health care) but cry about it here (PERS)?

This discussion is to dour. Would somebody please say something outrageously funny. I'm on my way to the bank.

"rather than take away retirement benefits from fellow middle-class people out of sheer, unadulterated envy?"

I wouldn't say envy as much as a desire to ensure our kids have a decent education since any revenue increase will fund benefits before any goes to the classroom.

Steve remarks: "but to the employers. Can we just call them taxpayers instead".

Sure you can. But if the taxpayers were directly involved, they would never approve of some of the shenanigans the employers (taxpayers) pull at their expense. The employers have played at every costly gambit with taxpayer money. They've sued PERS and lost. They've sued the legislature and lost. And they didn't fight as hard as they should when HB 3349 was implemented in 1997. They could have fought harder in '97 and wouldn't have been saddled with the direct costs of the tax adjustment. They had nothing to do with the decision to start taxing the benefits. They should have been held harmless from having to fund it directly from their budgets. I know it is a technical thing since all the money comes from the taxpayer, but if the State of Oregon has to fund the tax adjustment, the money comes directly from the Revenue Department rather than having the individual agencies have to manage their own funds to pay this.

Another interesting decision by the legislature. And this will piss off my fellow PERS recipients. The original tax exemption for PERS beneficiaries was limited to Oregon income tax. After the court ruling, the Legislature acting complicitly with PERS decided that they didn't want to be the residency police. Consequently, ever PERS retiree who had work time prior to October 1991 gets a tax increase benefit whether they pay Oregon Income tax or not. PERS and the revenue department don't want to bother dealing with non-residents so the simple solution is to pay all PERS retirees the benefit. Members who live in Washington don't pay any income taxes anyway. Why should they get a subsidy for Oregon taxes when they don't even live in Oregon.

There are so many ways to fix PERS that wouldn't land in court and tie up the court system for years. There is so much stupidity at the hands of the Legislature for continuing to make the system more and more complex all the while wringing its hands about how complex the system is. I could probably come up with a list of changes that would save a bunch of money without exposing the system to reckless measures that are bound to be struck down by the Oregon Supreme Court. None of these ideas are new. They've been around since at least 1991. They might involve some temporary pain for various parts of the system, but the long term benefits would be significant.

But instead everyone wants to go for the big hammer without considering the impact of the big hammer. Dumb, dumber, and dumbest.

"continuing to make the system more and more complex all the while wringing its hands about how complex the system is."

Fine, how about a major overhaul. Give every PERS beneficiary the cash value of his account today and we can set it up your way so that it is successful.

I mean I keep hearing about how every one else is idiots, but that's not stopping you from trying to change PERS or not cashing your checks in protest.

I think an honorable retirement plan is in the US Constitution.

Steve: Cashing everyone out is too expensive. The state can't afford to do it. If it were simple, it would have been done already. It was considered in 2003 and found to be more costly than anyone anticipated and not entirely free of legal peril. The combination of cost - prohibitive and potential legal liability - scared off the legislature. People will have to be satisfied with incremental changes because the big hammer will bankrupt the state sooner (or make its bonds unsellable) than letting the system correct itself with the help of some additional, legal changes. This cake was baked over a 65 year period. Blowing it up by legislation or by referendum isn't going to make the costs go away. You have a spare $19 billion floating around right now, on top of the value of the equities the state can sell?

Think outside the box. Ask yourself what can be done that is (a) legal and (b) relatively low cost; (c) will net a significant return for the taxpayers; and (d) will keep the plan fully qualified by the IRS. There are lots of small changes that *could* be made that would save quite a bit of money. But people are so focused on the big changes that aren't going to happen without a major fight and the prospect of bankrupting the state sooner rather than later. Just because you want to blow the system up doesn't mean that is the wisest or fiscally most prudent course of action.

Mcfearless - OK, lets hear your list of changes that will save PERS & not end up in court - you've witten a lot, but no specifics. A twelve year average of 89% of FAS is not "cherry picking" the numbers. It boils down to the fact that a system designed to provide 50% to 67% of real salary (and why should it not be taxed like other pensions? There goes that 9% gift.) has been gamed by the public sector unions & their chosen politicians (whom it pleases you to call "the employer") to gold plate the thing & provide 50% more than was contemplated. It is unsustainable, and your torrents of entitlement-speak are helping the cause of PERS abolition. It is the 25 year-olds like RyanLeo who will bear the brunt of this, & I doubt they will stand for it long. Please direct me to any PERS publications on which beneficiaries relied that explicitly promised more than than 67% of salary - and if such things exist, why was a PERS beneficiary who worked as an accountant dreaming of a retirement of 80%-85% including Social Security, as cited in the PERS history? And, just out of curiosity, which academic committees are professors forced to participate in which expose them to legal liability, without immunity or insurance?

Try promotion and tenure committees. Try being a Department Chair with an independent evaluation in a promotion and tenure case. Try being a supervisor of a classified employee with a union grievance.

As for my ideas to save money, you'll find them strewn about in my postings. I'm not looking for a way to cut my own throat so I'll leave it to others with pension experience and legal experience to come up with the ideas. I didn't demand that Tier 3 have a defined benefit component. Greg Macpherson did that all by himself. Hundreds of millions of dollars could have been saved by creating a new tier that didn't include the expensive defined benefit structure. I'm not too lazy to repatriate money paid to cover state income taxes from retirees who don't live in Oregon. But the Department of Revenue and PERS are. There's about $80 million that goes out of state every year to cover income taxes that aren't being levied or collected. At least I pay Oregon income taxes.

As to the question of the system's design and why people ended up getting more than they expected when they first started, the only promise that exists is that within the PERS statutes. And nothing you'll find in the PERS statutes EVER states a target objective for % of final average salary. PERS is what it is and no one should be faulted for taking what they've earned by working within the system. I don't think anyone expected Money Match to grow to be such a winning combination. Frankly, few PERS members understand the nuances of the system. But PERS itself used to (prior to 2003) send out annual statements that gave projected benefits at the normal retirement age. Anyone with half a brain could have used that to formulate an expectation about how the plan was doing and draw inferences about what percentage of final average salary they might get.

The whole concept of replacement ratio is an exercise in trying to rewrite history. Who could have predicted that the stock market would have done as well at it did during the 1990s and the early part of the 21st century? Who could have predicted the calamitous fall in 2008/early 2009? You can't rewrite history. Whatever the PERS Board's objectives may have been, they weren't the ones making the rules. It has always been the legislature who makes the rules. You've given far too much credit to the unions (and you've cited no facts, just opinions) about how much of a role they played in getting PERS to the way it is today. Much of our current system was put into place BEFORE collective bargaining was finally permitted in the public sector in the early 1970's. There have actually been few changes to PERS since then, except for the addition of Full Formula in 1981 and the restoration of the Money Match about the same time. Since then, the only role the unions have played is in fighting in court for what is viewed to be contractual. And you can bet your own ass that you would fight in court if your retirement benefits were about to be taken away and you had a union representing you. That's the union's job. That's what you pay dues for.

If you don't like unions, work to get rid of public employee collective bargaining. It isn't enacted in the state constitution, so what's stopping you from trying to take it away from public employees? After, public employees seem to be everyone's favorite whipping boys and girls and their unions are their enablers.

Teleo says:

Why do so many people hate this country? Everywhere you turn, some wack job is attacking our infrastructure. They attack Oregon Public Education which is 'Among' the best in the world. They attack our State employees (who are underpaid) for political gain. They attack our state government(which IS the state of OREGON)... in short, they just Hate!! Why cant they just move to Peru?
In this thread there is seems only one person who has the knowledge to rationally discuss the topic, and it Damn sure aint Kiesling!!
I think we need be wary of Phil's future. I will donate from my meager earnings to help anyone who can keep Phil out of elected office.
Thanks for explaining things clearly, mrfearless47

This is getting boring, but when was the last time anyone in the situations you mention was sued and had to defend themselves out of their own pocket, or subjected to personal liability? And your timeline speaks for itself - public sector collective bargaining arrives in the early 70s, and by '81 you get the "Full Formula" and restoration of Money Match; the latter, I believe, was a major cause of the obscene payouts commencing in 1996 and continuing to this day. What was the ostensible reason for the restoration of Money Match? And I can hear the screams of "contractual rights" from PERS saprophytes resident in Washington if the simple and obvious correction you suggest were to be implemented. But please keep up the chorus of arrogant entitlement - it may actually lead to a day when balance is restored to the public sector compensation system, but a State bankruptcy filing may be required.

Both the Full Formula and the restoration of money match were ideas hatched by the Republican leadership in the Executive Branch.

It is interesting that the group that had the least influence in the design and benefits of PERS is taking the most flack.

Employees have no control over the benefit options once they begin employment. At one time they could elect to place a portion of their contribution in a "variable" account but that was discontinued in 2003.

PERS analysis suggests that within 10 years most of the Tier 1 workers will be retired. Any changes made now for all practical purposes are going to have to look forward.

The 2003 system changes are already beginning to produce changes in future projections. They just haven't had sufficient time to have a big impact.

I see a few of you have discovered the PERS document library. This repository was constructed and paid for by a small group of retirees. MrFearless contributed many of the documents from his library of PERS material. At the time the library was assembled, these were not available anywhere else.

Looking forward, Oregon State University has agreed to host the PERS Document Library. This will ensure this resource is available permanently for all seeking an understanding of the facts over time. If any of you know of a PERS related document that isn't in the library, there is an e-mail address on the site that will get a message to me.

I absolutely agree that whipping up public outrage against workers isn't likely to produce a desirable outcome. Workers didn't design the system and have less influence than some seem to imply.

Before people take aim at specific issues or suggest changes, make some effort to become better informed. You need to be prepared to listen to all sides of an argument and develop a better understanding of what the statutes allow.

One side of the mouth says "I can't help it if they give me all this money," while the other side says "you bet your ass you'd fight to keep your hard earned pension." The union membership elects the union leadership, which games the system and selects the candidates, for which the union members, retirees, relations and camp followers vote in overwhelming numbers, and voila! Retire on 130% of salary, including Social Security. Gosh, how did that happen?

"Retire on 130% of salary, including Social Security. Gosh, how did that happen?"

Which makes a great bumper sticker but the only person I know who retired with that much money had worked for 45 years under PERS. And that was before the 2003 reforms. No one and I repeat no one gets that kind of money now-a-days. And as money match is getting phased out no one will in the future either.

Greg C

Fascinating!...why don't you folks all run for the state legislature and debate this and other issues and fix'em! You all would be much better than the clowns currently occupying the chairs in Salem.
I mean it, I really do.

"were ideas hatched by the Republican leadership in the Executive Branch"

Who cares? Unless you're trying to disprove the idea that self-serving idiots are only of one political persuasion.

No what I think he was trying to "prove" was that the sytem wasn't designed by the employees unions as some here are implying. In fact they were designed in an era when defined benefit pensions plans were the norm before libertarian politicians declared war on so called "nannyism" whether in the private or public sector.

"no one should be faulted for taking what they've earned by working within the system."

Even if it ends up crippling the school system? I mean your whole argument is, yes, it's a bad system, but you promised, so just keep sending those checks (or as Rasheed said CTC) even if we have to cut the school year to nothing.

As of now, I am hard pressed to believe that any upside revenue is going to go for anything other than employee benefits.

Steve: you asked a question and I answered. What more do you want? You asked for the reasons. The answer is, I don't remember but will research it and get back to you. I do remember that Money Match was eliminated as an unintended consequence of some other change to PERS that happened in the 60's. It was restored, IIRC, for the same reason - to rectify the unintended consequence of its elimination. Full Formula was proposed by Governor Atiyeh as a way to give public employees more predictibility for what their benefits would be in retirement. I'm dredging my memory and will be happy to correct it if it turns out to be flawed.

One point is clear. The employees in the public sector have had little to do with the whys and the hows of PERS. They just went with the flow. Some of us began to take an active interest in the system during the 90s at about the same time that others were taking an interest. It was clear that their reasons for focusing on the system were different from my reasons for wanting to understand it.

The courts (both Federal and State) that you can't take back benefits already accrued. There is nothing to prevent the Legislature from restructuring future benefits. Retirees are out of the picture since they've already given up their jobs and have no option to return to the jobs they had prior to retiring. Their benefits were locked in at retirement except for the errors that might have been made and challenged in a timely manner in 2000.

That's right Steve. It isn't hard to see why our schools are so poor when the single largest outflow funds retirees, not children; it simply shouldn't be that way and the children are paying for it both with substandard education early on and higher taxes throughout their lives. Worse yet, Social Security surely won't be there for them when they need it.

The bigger question in all of this, is how can we fix this inherent dysfunction and disproportionality; it is only going to get worse in the coming years.

Teleo has the facts:

Hate mongers NEVER tell the would get in the way of their cultural terrorism. They say things like
"It isn't hard to see why our schools are so poor when the single largest outflow funds retirees, not children"

How does Portland Public Schools spend its money?

More than half of Portland Public Schools’ $468 million general fund budget goes straight to the classroom, paying for teachers and their classroom materials. And almost one-fifth pays for other school staff, such as counselors, librarians, principals and school secretaries. Only 4 percent pays for administration.

As PPS has confronted budget cuts, school boards and superintendents alike have focused on one thing: protecting schools and teaching positions.

Employees at all levels have suggested changes to the way PPS does business. Over the years, the school district has saved millions through actions such as:

* Negotiating for lower costs in the school bus contract and rerouting bus routes
* Increasing the energy efficiency in schools by replacing heating systems and lighting
* Lowering costs for outside legal services
* Developing partnerships such as Community Care Day
* Reducing premiums for property and liability insurance

Good Work Employees

After the "dot-com" bubble burst of 2000 and the PERS losses and "reforms" of 2003, independent consultants predicted that the PERS unfunded liabilities would require 17 years to be mitigated. It only required 2.5 years to achieve 110% of required funding. We can only hope our economy improves rapidly and gives us all some breathing room to make rational decisions and take careful, reasoned actions impacting state programs. For solutions we are going to have to look beyond PERS, which has always had cyclical variations created by periodic stock market downturns--the latest a result of greed and fraud in the banking and investment communities. That is where most of my anger is directed this time.

In 2006 I attended a presentation by State Senator Frank Morse, Republican from Albany. It was an eye opener. He shared data that revealed the cost of "unfunded voter mandates" and their impact on the budget. He even displayed a chart that illustrated the growth in state spending from 1990 to 2005. If the unfunded voter mandates were removed, Oregon's budget grew at a rate of about a 1% per year in inflation adjusted dollars. With the mandates, it has grown much more rapidly. What were the mandates? Public safety (read prisons, measure 11), property tax limitations (measure 5), home health care and the Home Health Commission (measure 99), etc., all enacted with no funding mechanism to replace the hundreds of millions these programs would extract from the general fund… so they were funded at the expense of other programs and services. As of 2005, Oregon spent 84% more than six other western states on Public Safety, 23% less on Higher Education, and 21% less for Human Services. It has only worsened since then because costs have increased markedly for all of these programs. Any program's cost (including PERS and other benefits) will appear to take a larger piece of the available revenue "pie" when revenue is diverted into other programs and not replaced. So, if Oregon voters are looking for who is responsible for the increase in the Oregon budget they should..…. look in the mirror.

According to Morse, if we had adopted Idaho's (Republican controlled, fiscally conservative legislature) combination of income and constitutionally restricted sales tax, Oregon would have achieved nearly a billion dollar surplus in 2005. I would prefer to see more creative thinking and an open minded search for solutions, rather than scapegoating any particular group or program.

Back to the grownup world - McFearless writes "Steve: you asked a question and I answered. What more do you want? You asked for the reasons. The answer is, I don't remember but will research it and get back to you. I do remember that Money Match was eliminated as an unintended consequence of some other change to PERS that happened in the 60's. It was restored, IIRC, for the same reason - to rectify the unintended consequence of its elimination."

My recollection, from the Oregonian series a few years back, is otherwise - I recall that Money Match was started in the mid-60s as temporary fix for some employees when another change was made, and that it was left in place - never eliminated and reinstated in '81 ("by republicans"), as you say. Lets look into it & find out. The bottom line is that the Measure 8 sponsors in '94 saw it would become a disaster & the people agreed, but the Court put it back in '95. Off to the library...

Here is what I know. I cashed out of my close in NE Portland home and am now renting in the same neighborhood. The plan is to be mobile in case things get undesirable. I love living here but I am not willing to pay excessive taxes. I see the coming financial hardship and I am not optimistic about the govt figuring this out. The liabilities for the Portland police/fire pensions, unsustainable PERS, excesses of city govt are just a few of our concerns. The Shenks are going to vote with their feet if need be. We love it here but I am not willing to stick around and pay high taxes for diminishing services.

No, Salemwitch what is more boring than honest criticisms of a pension system that will be running deficits in a decade or less are union employees who come here under aliases spouting platitudes about how the providing of a public good is not profitable and those poor teachers are not making enough.

In my previous posts, I posted these links about K-12 teacher and administration salaries:


Instead of an honest discussion of why a "Project Specialist" makes $58k/year with full benefits and a tax-payer paid for pension on only 200 work days out of the 365 days of the year, this discussion has devolved into technical speak between opposing sides.

Likewise, why does a brand new, inexperienced teacher make $38.5k/year with full benefits and a tax-payer paid for pension for only 9 months of work?

If you factor in the cost that the employer is contributing to the healthcare coverage, pensionm sick days, and vacation leave, then that poor teacher really ain't underpaid. He/she is getting an employment package that is closer to 50k/year if you cash out the bennies and add them to the salary.

These salaries of both K-12 teachers and administration combined with the bennies are the principal reason why PERS will not be financially sustainable so that honest, good hearted Baby Boomers can retire without worry.

"How does Portland Public Schools spend its money?"

You're missing the point. Yes, it does pay for personnel, but the personnel cost is going upi way faster than inflation and large part of this is filling the gap of an unsustainable (at least from a taxpayer's standpoint) PERS system.


Money Match *was* the original PERS plan when the institution was set up in 1945. It was eliminated for some period of time and then reinstated. I said I didn't remember when this happened and I still don't. I know that Full Formula was introduced in 1981 and that by then there were three different methods the legislature had for determining PERS benefits - Money Match, Formula + Annuity, and Full Formula. The F+A is only available to PERS members who joined the system prior to 1981; the remaining two are available to Tier 1 and Tier 2 members. Tier 2 was the Legislature's response to Ballot Measure 8. It took away the guaranteed rate of return for members and raised the retirement age from 58 to 60. Tier 3 (OPSRP) was added in the 2003 Legislature and is basically a Formula + Annuity model with a smaller annuity portion (1.45% per year of service) and a slightly redefined method of determining Final Average Salary. Tier 1 and Tier 2 employee contributions have been diverted from member accounts subject to the employer match and into a 401K-type account that delivers market returns, no guarantee, and no choice about investment instruments. The original variant was that it would be a true 401-K where members could invest and manage their own investments, but PERS took that feature away in 2006 when they discovered that it was way too difficult to manage, especially when employers were continually late making their monthly contributions. Rather than risk litigation, PERS elected to treat the money "as if" it were like the Tier 2 funds and pay earnings annually. Employees can determine their account balances any time, but there is no guarantee that such balances will be accurate or timely.

As for the research, I wouldn't limit myself to the Oregonian, as the Oregonian's research has been demonstrated repeatedly to be incorrect on so many issues. You'd be better off reading the preamble to either the plaintiffs' case or the defendants' pleadings in the consolidated PERS cases known as Strunk. You can find them at - a web site I participate in that houses all the "holy relics", as we call them, about the PERS cases going back a long time. I just haven't had the time to dig through my archives to locate the precise date of the reinstatement of the Money Match.

I'm puzzled by Mr. F's repeated statements that the 2003 legislature should have adopted a "401-K" plan instead of the reforms that were adopted. This puzzles me for three reasons:

First, state and local governments aren't eligible to have true 401(k) plans (except for the few grandfathered ones that some governments have).

Second, the state (and many local governments) already have a 401(k)-style retirement plan -- the Oregon Growth Savings Plan.

Third, the 2003 republicans would have LOVED to replace PERS with a 401(k)-type arrangement -- which is basically the same retirement plan offered to employees of McDonald's. Most of my retirement income is in a 401(k) plan, and like many in the same boat, I've stopped even looking at my statements -- it's too depressing.

Unlike Mr. F., I have over 20 years' experience as a pension lawyer, some of it as a legal adviser to PERS. I helped draft the 2003 PERS reforms and I believe they represented a reasonable compromise, given the constraints of Oregon case law and political reality. Oregon public employees deserve a stable, predictable retirement income, and you only get that with a defined benefit plan. So enjoy it, Oregon public employees -- because very few private sector workers have defined benefit pension plans any more.

The challenge will be keeping future legislatures from adding on a little here, a little there, until we're back where we started. Thank goodness for Phil Keisling and other responsible Oregonians who are taking public, principled stands on this issue.


As a lawyer/blogger, I get
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In Vino Veritas

Lange, Pinot Gris 2015
Kiona, Lemberger 2014
Willamette Valley, Pinot Gris 2015
Aix, Rosé de Provence 2016
Marchigüe, Cabernet 2013
Inazío Irruzola, Getariako Txakolina Rosé 2015
Maso Canali, Pinot Grigio 2015
Campo Viejo, Rioja Reserva 2011
Kirkland, Côtes de Provence Rosé 2016
Cantele, Salice Salentino Reserva 2013
Whispering Angel, Côtes de Provence Rosé 2013
Avissi, Prosecco
Cleto Charli, Lambrusco di Sorbara Secco, Vecchia Modena
Pique Poul, Rosé 2016
Edmunds St. John, Bone-Jolly Rosé 2016
Stoller, Pinot Noir Rosé 2016
Chehalem, Inox Chardonnay 2015
The Four Graces, Pinot Gris 2015
Gascón, Colosal Red 2013
Cardwell Hill, Pinot Gris 2015
L'Ecole No. 41, Merlot 2013
Della Terra, Anonymus
Willamette Valley, Dijon Clone Chardonnay 2013
Wraith, Cabernet, Eidolon Estate 2012
Januik, Red 2015
Tomassi, Valpolicella, Rafaél, 2014
Sharecropper's Pinot Noir 2013
Helix, Pomatia Red Blend 2013
La Espera, Cabernet 2011
Campo Viejo, Rioja Reserva 2011
Villa Antinori, Toscana 2013
Locations, Spanish Red Wine
Locations, Argentinian Red Wine
La Antigua Clásico, Rioja 2011
Shatter, Grenache, Maury 2012
Argyle, Vintage Brut 2011
Abacela, Vintner's Blend #16 Abacela, Fiesta Tempranillo 2014
Benton Hill, Pinot Gris 2015
Primarius, Pinot Gris 2015
Januik, Merlot 2013
Napa Cellars, Cabernet 2013
J. Bookwalter, Protagonist 2012
LAN, Rioja Edicion Limitada 2011
Beaulieu, Cabernet, Rutherford 2009
Denada Cellars, Cabernet, Maipo Valley 2014
Marchigüe, Cabernet, Colchagua Valley 2013
Oberon, Cabernet 2014
Hedges, Red Mountain 2012
Balboa, Rose of Grenache 2015
Ontañón, Rioja Reserva 2015
Three Horse Ranch, Pinot Gris 2014
Archery Summit, Vireton Pinot Gris 2014
Nelms Road, Merlot 2013
Chateau Ste. Michelle, Pinot Gris 2014
Conn Creek, Cabernet, Napa 2012
Conn Creek, Cabernet, Napa 2013
Villa Maria, Sauvignon Blanc 2015
G3, Cabernet 2013
Chateau Smith, Cabernet, Washington State 2014
Abacela, Vintner's Blend #16
Willamette Valley, Rose of Pinot Noir, Whole Clusters 2015
Albero, Bobal Rose 2015
Ca' del Baio Barbaresco Valgrande 2012
Goodfellow, Reserve Pinot Gris, Clover 2014
Lugana, San Benedetto 2014
Wente, Cabernet, Charles Wetmore 2011
La Espera, Cabernet 2011
King Estate, Pinot Gris 2015
Adelsheim, Pinot Gris 2015
Trader Joe's, Pinot Gris, Willamette Valley 2015
La Vite Lucente, Toscana Red 2013
St. Francis, Cabernet, Sonoma 2013
Kendall-Jackson, Pinot Noir, California 2013
Beaulieu, Cabernet, Napa Valley 2013
Erath, Pinot Noir, Estate Selection 2012
Abbot's Table, Columbia Valley 2014
Intrinsic, Cabernet 2014
Oyster Bay, Pinot Noir 2010
Occhipinti, SP68 Bianco 2014
Layer Cake, Shiraz 2013
Desert Wind, Ruah 2011
WillaKenzie, Pinot Gris 2014
Abacela, Fiesta Tempranillo 2013
Des Amis, Rose 2014
Dunham, Trautina 2012
RoxyAnn, Claret 2012
Del Ri, Claret 2012
Stoppa, Emilia, Red 2004
Primarius, Pinot Noir 2013
Domaines Bunan, Bandol Rose 2015
Albero, Bobal Rose 2015
Deer Creek, Pinot Gris 2015
Beaulieu, Rutherford Cabernet 2013
Archery Summit, Vireton Pinot Gris 2014
King Estate, Pinot Gris, Backbone 2014
Oberon, Napa Cabernet 2013
Apaltagua, Envero Carmenere Gran Reserva 2013
Chateau des Arnauds, Cuvee des Capucins 2012
Nine Hats, Red 2013
Benziger, Cabernet, Sonoma 2012
Roxy Ann, Claret 2012
Januik, Merlot 2012
Conundrum, White 2013
St. Francis, Sonoma Cabernet 2012

The Occasional Book

Marc Maron - Waiting for the Punch
Phil Stanford - Rose City Vice
Kenneth R. Feinberg - What is Life Worth?
Kent Haruf - Our Souls at Night
Peter Carey - True History of the Kelly Gang
Suzanne Collins - The Hunger Games
Amy Stewart - Girl Waits With Gun
Philip Roth - The Plot Against America
Norm Macdonald - Based on a True Story
Christopher Buckley - Boomsday
Ryan Holiday - The Obstacle is the Way
Ruth Sepetys - Between Shades of Gray
Richard Adams - Watership Down
Claire Vaye Watkins - Gold Fame Citrus
Markus Zusak - I am the Messenger
Anthony Doerr - All the Light We Cannot See
James Joyce - Dubliners
Cheryl Strayed - Torch
William Golding - Lord of the Flies
Saul Bellow - Mister Sammler's Planet
Phil Stanford - White House Call Girl
John Kaplan & Jon R. Waltz - The Trial of Jack Ruby
Kent Haruf - Eventide
David Halberstam - Summer of '49
Norman Mailer - The Naked and the Dead
Maria Dermoȗt - The Ten Thousand Things
William Faulkner - As I Lay Dying
Markus Zusak - The Book Thief
Christopher Buckley - Thank You for Smoking
William Shakespeare - Othello
Joseph Conrad - Heart of Darkness
Bill Bryson - A Short History of Nearly Everything
Cheryl Strayed - Tiny Beautiful Things
Sara Varon - Bake Sale
Stephen King - 11/22/63
Paul Goldstein - Errors and Omissions
Mark Twain - A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court
Steve Martin - Born Standing Up: A Comic's Life
Beverly Cleary - A Girl from Yamhill, a Memoir
Kent Haruf - Plainsong
Hope Larson - A Wrinkle in Time, the Graphic Novel
Rudyard Kipling - Kim
Peter Ames Carlin - Bruce
Fran Cannon Slayton - When the Whistle Blows
Neil Young - Waging Heavy Peace
Mark Bego - Aretha Franklin, the Queen of Soul (2012 ed.)
Jenny Lawson - Let's Pretend This Never Happened
J.D. Salinger - Franny and Zooey
Charles Dickens - A Christmas Carol
Timothy Egan - The Big Burn
Deborah Eisenberg - Transactions in a Foreign Currency
Kurt Vonnegut Jr. - Slaughterhouse Five
Kathryn Lance - Pandora's Genes
Cheryl Strayed - Wild
Fyodor Dostoyevsky - The Brothers Karamazov
Jack London - The House of Pride, and Other Tales of Hawaii
Jack Walker - The Extraordinary Rendition of Vincent Dellamaria
Colum McCann - Let the Great World Spin
Niccolò Machiavelli - The Prince
Harper Lee - To Kill a Mockingbird
Emma McLaughlin & Nicola Kraus - The Nanny Diaries
Brian Selznick - The Invention of Hugo Cabret
Sharon Creech - Walk Two Moons
Keith Richards - Life
F. Sionil Jose - Dusk
Natalie Babbitt - Tuck Everlasting
Justin Halpern - S#*t My Dad Says
Mark Herrmann - The Curmudgeon's Guide to Practicing Law
Barry Glassner - The Gospel of Food
Phil Stanford - The Peyton-Allan Files
Jesse Katz - The Opposite Field
Evelyn Waugh - Brideshead Revisited
J.K. Rowling - Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone
David Sedaris - Holidays on Ice
Donald Miller - A Million Miles in a Thousand Years
Mitch Albom - Have a Little Faith
C.S. Lewis - The Magician's Nephew
F. Scott Fitzgerald - The Great Gatsby
William Shakespeare - A Midsummer Night's Dream
Ivan Doig - Bucking the Sun
Penda Diakité - I Lost My Tooth in Africa
Grace Lin - The Year of the Rat
Oscar Hijuelos - Mr. Ives' Christmas
Madeline L'Engle - A Wrinkle in Time
Steven Hart - The Last Three Miles
David Sedaris - Me Talk Pretty One Day
Karen Armstrong - The Spiral Staircase
Charles Larson - The Portland Murders
Adrian Wojnarowski - The Miracle of St. Anthony
William H. Colby - Long Goodbye
Steven D. Stark - Meet the Beatles
Phil Stanford - Portland Confidential
Rick Moody - Garden State
Jonathan Schwartz - All in Good Time
David Sedaris - Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim
Anthony Holden - Big Deal
Robert J. Spitzer - The Spirit of Leadership
James McManus - Positively Fifth Street
Jeff Noon - Vurt

Road Work

Miles run year to date: 5
At this date last year: 3
Total run in 2017: 113
In 2016: 155
In 2015: 271
In 2014: 401
In 2013: 257
In 2012: 129
In 2011: 113
In 2010: 125
In 2009: 67
In 2008: 28
In 2007: 113
In 2006: 100
In 2005: 149
In 2004: 204
In 2003: 269

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