Down at the Lege, all the talk is about budgets - particularly, the schools budget and how it intersects with changes to the PERS system.
The Governor's proposed budget would cut PERS by $865 million and peg K-12 spending at $6.15 billion (plus $253 million in PERS savings). The co-chairs budget, the official legislative starting point, adds another $400 million for K-12 for a total of $6.55 billion (plus $200 million in PERS savings).
In an op-ed in the O this week, Tim Nesbitt - a former president of the Oregon AFL-CIO - suggested a grand bargain in which public employees agree to PERS cuts in exchange for pay raises and new jobs for teachers and other public servants. As he puts it, it's all about choices:
The choice facing the Legislature now is the same choice facing public employees and the public they serve: Do nothing and put another $900 million in the bank to fund PERS benefits over the next 20 years. Or enact PERS reforms that will sustain an additional 5,800 jobs, put that $900 million into the paychecks of the workers who perform those jobs and into their communities, reduce class sizes for teachers and students alike, and rebuild the services that support a safe and healthy Oregon.
Of course, it's easy to get lost in all the math. As I noted in another context earlier today, the math is meaningless unless you've got the context. And in her own op-ed today, Speaker Tina Kotek gives us the context for thinking about state budgets.
As Speaker Kotek puts it, it's all about fairness:
In pursuing this goal, it will be absolutely critical to strive for balance and fairness. Balance in who is asked to make sacrifices, and fairness in how we propose to achieve it. ...
The co-chairs are asking much of all of us. They are asking legislators to step up to the task of reducing both program costs and tax breaks. They are asking middle-class retirees to make do with less. They are asking current middle-class workers to do even more while continuing to serve the public within tight budgets. And they are asking the public at large and the business community in particular to work with the Legislature to scale back some spending on tax breaks. ...
Some have already demanded that retired workers shoulder the entire burden. That's not fair or balanced. It's not fair because we must, to the degree that we can, honor the promises the state has made. It's also not balanced because Wall Street greed, not middle-class workers, caused the large unfunded liability in PERS.
Parents often tell their children that life isn't fair. Maybe so, but that shouldn't keep us from trying.
We're in a fix. And there aren't any solutions that will make everybody happy. I don't know what the solution is - and I'm thankful that I'm not the guy stuck with figuring it all out. I'm just happy that there are a bunch of good Democrats down there puzzling their way through it with seriousness of purpose and a focus on the core values that matter.
It's a really big contrast to what's happening back in DC right now, where it seems to all be about posturing and blaming.
On this bright and sunny day, here's to Oregon.