OR Lege: Will common sense prevail?

Carla Axtman

This legislative session has seen a lot of evidence that Republicans & Democrats have very different values & priorities. Republicans seek to balance the state budget through slashing programs that serve the poor and elderly--while leaving the wealthy and corporations largely untouched. Democrats are working to balance the budget through closing tax loopholes & expenditures--and asking wealthier Oregonians to sacrifice and give back to the community.

And now, the legislature begins tackling the real elephant in the budget: PERS. Last week, the Democratic Ways and Means Co-chairs introduced SB 822. Here's the upshot: the proposal establishes a graduated cost of living adjustment (COLA) of marginal rates based on the level of a retiree’s benefit. All retirees would receive the current 2% increase on their first $20,000 of retirement income. The COLA would then gradually decrease; 1.5% on retirement income between $20,001 and $40,000, 1% on retirement income from $40,001 to $60,000, and .25% on all retirement income above $60,000. The first year of the coming biennium would see the COLA rate will drop from 2% to 1.5% for all retirement income to give the PERS agency enough time to put the new formula in place.

In yesterday's Oregonian, Rep. Peter Buckley's op-ed pretty much lays out the values piece:

Fact, not rhetoric: The vast majority of PERS retirees have pensions of less than $3,000 a month. In what strange view of the world is it bold, good or even decent to demand more of middle-class workers and retirees than we ask of those who have prospered even in the midst of the great recession -- a recession that is the root cause of the unfunded liability PERS currently faces? PERS was fully funded in 2007 before the 2008 Wall Street crash.

But public education and other vital services do face a crisis, and I am asking for help from the very people who have dedicated their lives to our state -- and from wealthier Oregonians, too. We must make hard choices if we are to put an additional $1 billion back in classrooms to finally begin to stabilize our schools.

Our budget makes those hard choices, but it does so in a way that tries to minimize harm to the lowest-earning retirees. It prioritizes the services we all count on, but it does so in a balanced way. It prioritizes schools without recklessly betting everything on a plan that is likely to be thrown out in court. It is the fairest, most prudent, most fiscally responsible and most likely legal plan of any proposed.

We all have an obligation to the next generation, and if we all stretch ourselves a bit, ask more of ourselves as individuals and as a state, we can meet that obligation. (emphasis Carla)

And there's the crux: we all have to stretch ourselves a bit to make this work--not just for PERS but for schools, too. That means shared sacrifice--and that's the core principle behind what the Democrats are doing.

(More after the jump)

Meanwhile, the Oregonian editorial board is practically apoplectic over PERS. The paper's ever moving march to the right continues.

It's a good week to be prochoice in Oregon. Today, testimony will be heard on House Concurrent Resolution 6 (HCR 6) , which reaffirms that abortion should remain a safe and legal medical procedure and that personal medical decisions should be left to a woman without unnecessary government interference.

Bills to watch on the House side this week:

HB 3390 - Paid sick leave: hearing in Business and Labor, 8am Wednesday

HB 2662 - Requires owners of foreclosed properties (banks) keep the properties maintained. Public Hearing in House Consumer Protection on Tuesday

HB 2207 - Requires state payroll be made through direct deposit instead of paying to print and mail checks--this is a government efficiency bill.

This Week In Common Sense on the Senate side: legislation to curb/mitigate gun violence. If you've got an opening in your schedule and can be in Salem for some or all of this, you should go and represent the side of sane public policy--meaning basic, common sense legislation on guns.

All hearings will take place in the Senate Judiciary Committee, 8:30 AM to 12:00 PM, Friday, April 5, 2013 in Hearing Room 50.

Senate Bill 347: Establishes a statewide policy prohibiting carrying a gun into a K-12 building. Local districts can opt out if they choose.

Senate Bill 699: Requires Concealed Handgun License (CHL) holders to carry their weapons concealed while in public buildings.

Senate Bill 700: Requires criminal background checks before guns can be transferred between private parties. Transfers between family members are generally exempted.

Senate Bill 796: Requires CHL applicants to complete ‘live fire’ training as part of the gun safety program. It works similar to a driver's license, requiring an individual to demonstrate their proficiency prior to the state granting the concealed carry.

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