The Oregon Public Employee Retirement System (PERS) is a framework for compensation that has evolved over time. Like any policy it reflects the ideals of the men and women that established it, and it functions as a bureaucracy: with outcomes both bad and good - mostly good.
PERS is NOT the Antichrist; Public Employees are NOT the Devil.
Though it has become fashionable in the press to highlight a few cases where people will reap extraordinary benefits from the program, these instances misrepresent the larger truth.
Public Employees - those that work for the public good - are people that often opted for stronger benefits as compensation, in lieu of pay.
Private Employees - thost that work for private enterprise (and also for the public good) - are people that often opted for more "competitive pay," in lieu of benefits.
Sadly, the weakened economy has impacted workers across the board: for public employees "furloughs" went from the history books to a monthly reality. And for private and public employees alike, there are fewer jobs (and worse pay).
And there is a case for a thoughtful review of the PERS structure/system in order to adjust to the economic exigencies of our times. But we must stop allowing the PERS issue to divide us.
Employees - those of us that work for a living - have a lot in common:
We do not have Swiss Accounts.
We do not have foreign reserves shielded from taxes.
We do not benefit when a company takes jobs overseas.
And we are all mutually dependent upon a complex economic network that rewards creativity, hard work, and sustainability.
Measures 5 and 47/50 set into motion a downward spiral of government capabilities and discontent. It was the means and the ends for Sizemore, McIntyre, Parks, and their supporters.
Since then a cottage industry has sustained an unrelenting (and often, ill-informed) war upon the government.
Government is not inherently bad, nor is it inherently good: it is an instrument reflective of the people willing to make it function.
Since the 1990s, governments have done what they could within the available constraints of law and resources and we are now consuming the seed corn at an alarming rate.
Private sector workers and public sector workers are partners: government does the things that cannot (or should not make a profit), so that private industry can.
Oregon is strongest when employment is high in both sectors: we are weakest when we fight over the scraps left on the table by the folks that benefit regardless of economic conditions.
This election recognize the parlor tricks for what they are: if we fight over stupid things, those pitting us against each other can advance a different, opposing agenda.
In simplest terms, while we fight over the color of the drapes our real adversaries can rob the money from our matresses and steal us blind.
PERS needs thoughtful reforms - fine.
But we do not, and must not demonize the public employees in the process.
How many of us really know the kind of tasks our family and friends working for the cities, counties, and state perform?
Let us push for leaders that will fix the problems, not the blame.
Let us push for leaders that understand how a robust public sector is empowering to an innovative private sector.
And let us stand up to the lies and mischaracterizations spread by those that seek a weaker, less free Oregon.