Public Employees Control Salem
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by Larry Huss — Oregon Catalyst — January 4, 2012 —
The Oregon Supreme Court announced that 28,000 Public Employee Retirement System (PERS) beneficiaries must repay $156 Million in overpayments from 2000 to 2004. So, you’re thinking to yourself, has the worm turned? Have Oregon’s politicians, including those on the Oregon Supreme Court, finally decided that enough is enough and are going to rein inOregon’s corrupt PERS system with its gold plated benefits and its domination by Oregon’s public employee unions? If you believe that then you are as naïve as those Ivy League twits at the United States State Department regardingIranand/or the Arab Spring.
Here’s the reality of the situation. Oregon’s Public Employee Retirement System is between $14 Billion and $16 Billion underwater. The future unfunded liability toOregon’s public employees in excess of current investments is so large that it exceeds Oregon’s biennial general fund budget. Worse still is that, at the behest of the public employee unions, theOregonlegislature adopted a provision that requires that payments to the PERS system be made before any other money is spent. (Just for clarification purposes, that law was introduced, passed and signed into law when the Democrats – whose elections are financed primarily by the public employee unions – held super majorities in both Houses and their favorite governor, Ted Kulongoski, was in office.) For taxpayers this means that before any service is delivered by the State of Oregon, current PERS obligations must be funded. And you thought that maybe some common sense had returned to Oregon’s political class.
But $156 Million is nothing to sneeze at. Okay, it’s only about one percent of the unfunded future liability but it’s $156 Million that PERS didn’t have yesterday. That is if PERS actually collects it and with the Democrats still in firm control of the governor’s office, and the public employee unions still in firm control of the Democrats, that remains questionable.
Even if you view this as a setback for the public employee unions, please understand that it is only temporary and, more importantly, anticipated. (You don’t spend twenty-five years funding a succession of Democratic gubernatorial races, and the resultant appointment of Supreme Court justices without gaining early access to which way the judicial winds are blowing.) And the public employee unions are ready. Under the guise of their unified political arm – Our Oregon – the unions have taken a page from Bill Sizemore’s political playbook and flooded the initiative process with THIRTEEN separate ballot measures. (Actually, the public employee unions make Sizemore look like a piker based on his best performance of proposing only nine measures.) But, whereas Mr. Sizemore had to go out to the general public to find signatures and funding for his efforts, the public employee unions with their nearly $130 Million biennial war chest – collected for them by the State of Oregon and its political subdivisions – have more union members than signatures required to qualify for the ballot. Mr. Sizemore would take six to nine months to collect signatures while the public employee unions can do it in less than a week as the union stewards walk through the government offices importuning their members at work. What a system!!
If this wasn’t so deadly serious it would be almost amusing about how stacked the deck is. Even more amusing is the name chosen by the public employee unions for their unified political efforts – Our Oregon. Now you might think that was chosen to suggest that they were protectingOregonfrom external attacks but nothing could be further from the truth. OurOregonmeans “their Oregon” – the public employees unions own it – at least they own state government. They own it, they paid for it, and by God they are going to make sure that it does exactly what they want for the foreseeable future.
When Mr. Sizemore overwhelmed the initiative process with nine measures, his thoughts were two-fold: one, it will cost the public employee unions so much to fight all nine measures that they won’t be able to fight effectively in legislative and statewide elections; and, two, with so many measures on the ballot one or more might slip through. While Mr. Sizemore correctly identified the public employee unions as the major opposing political force, it is doubtful that he, like everyone else, understood the depth of the resources available to the public employee unions.
In addition to the $130 Million available to Oregon’s public employee unions from mandatory member dues each biennium, the unions have all of the vast resources of their sister public employee unions on a state and federal level. The national public employee unions move money to and between states to support and oppose political issues. Mr. Sizemore could have offered 90 measures and still would not have exhausted the resources available to the public employee unions. And the most pernicious among the thirteen Our Oregon initiatives are Measures 42 and 43 which embed in the Oregon Constitution the right of public employee unions to utilize the payroll check off system for their political activities. While the unions widely criticized Mr. Sizemore for trying to burden theOregonconstitution with matters better left to the legislature, those same unions apparently think its just fine to embed their issues in the Constitution.
Despite all of the warts, flaws and questionable activities of Mr. Sizemore, Oregon’s public employees unions and their unified political arm, Our Oregon, with their enormous financial and manpower advantage, make Mr. Sizemore look like an unsullied virgin.