If you’ve read the Oregonian at all in the past couple of years, you know that they’ve embarked on a crusade against the Public Employees Retirement System (PERS). This began when the paper was taken over by conservative publisher N. Christian Anderson III and intensified when they hired Erik Lukens to run the Editorial page. (See our series on his right-wing views here.)
They’ve spent an inordinate amount of newsprint slamming the pension system, despite the fact that it’s one of the best-run, best-funded public pension plans in the country. Today, the Editorial Board made their big play, calling on the legislature to make PERS reform a priority in the next session.
It’s no surprise that they’d continue beating this horse. But what is surprising is the extent to which the Editorial Board has decided to insult the intelligence of their readers in doing so. Here are the five dumbest things you’ll read today, all courtesy of the Oregonian Editorial Board:
1. “As a measure of how powerfully public sentiment has turned against the retirement program, consider its introduction into the secretary of state's race. Challenger Knute Buehler wants to use the office's audit function to track PERS costs and – by the way – he'd like voters to know that incumbent Kate Brown voted against a significant piece of the 2003 reforms during her time as a legislator.”
Really? This one actually left me speechless. The fact that Knute Buehler is campaigning on PERS has nothing to do with public opinion, and everything to do with partisan politics.
It’s like saying the public has turned powerfully toward returning to the Gold Standard, because it’s part of Ron Paul’s campaign platform.
2. “We're aware of no move to create a defined contribution plan here by citizen initiative, but pushing Oregon's public pensions in this direction is not a new idea. In fact, PERS crunched some numbers in 2010 and determined that placing new public employees in a defined-contribution plan wouldn't save much money – if any – for several decades, as Tier One, Tier Two and post-2003 employees would still get their defined-benefit plans.”
Soooo, the main argument for moving Oregon to a “defined contribution” plan is that we’d save money, but it wouldn’t actually save any money for decades, if ever. If you needed any evidence that the Oregonian’s anti-PERS crusade is about politics and not about finding actual pragmatic solutions, there you have it.
3. “Why should the public sector be exempt from the economic pressures that have established 401(k) plans as the private sector standard?”
Let’s say you have two young kids, a girl and a boy. The boy accidentally breaks his favorite toy (because that’s what boys do) and he demands that you break his sister’s favorite toy in order to make it “fair.” That’s what the Oregonian is arguing for here.
4. “The program's investment shortfalls are driving up taxpayer contributions even as schools, cities and other government entities cut back on service.”
Let’s be clear—it was the Wall Street meltdown that hurt PERS returns, like every other investment portfolio. In fact, before the crash, the PERS rates that employers were paying were at historic lows. Wall Street greed put the squeeze on PERS accounts, just like it put the squeeze on everyone else.
5. “One sure way to spend smarter is to control the diversion of public funds from schools and other core services to the seemingly bottomless PERS pit.”
Here’s a real and easy to understand fact: Tax breaks in Oregon have grown by $3.4 billion just since 2009. The amount the state is projected to lose because of tax breaks has grown by 12% in the last five years. In terms of harmful budget impact on Oregon’s schools and critical services, nothing even comes close to our runaway tax breaks and loopholes, many of which go to large corporations and the rich.
And yet? The Oregonian has never once editorialized about the billions we’re losing through these tax breaks. Instead, they spend all their time fretting about what they think a shop teacher should make when he retires.