By Justin Aufdermauer
Oregon’s legislature is currently in session and is facing some serious issues such as a funding a much-needed statewide transportation package, adjusting for a $1.8 billion-dollar deficit, and simply figuring out how to work together. The legislature is required by law to adopt a balanced two-year budget. It is no easy feat and requires difficult trade-offs between competing programs and services. This Friday, March 3rd, from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Officers Mess Hall at the Port of Tillamook Bay is the Ways and Means Committee Public Forum. This is your opportunity to tell the Legislature what really matters to you.
Here are some facts to consider while researching or testifying about Oregon’s budget:
- Since the end of the Great Recession, Oregon revenues have grown faster than almost every state in the nation. Oregon’s state tax revenues are at an all-time high.
- The State actually has $1.2 billion dollars more to spend this budget cycle than it did last budget. The $1.8 billion deficit being discussed is due to government costs that are increasing faster than the additional revenue.
- One of the biggest cost-drivers for this and future budgets is the Public Employee Retirement System (PERS), which diverts money away from Oregon’s classrooms and other services.
- Oregon is the only state in the country where the public employees pension programs are fully funded by tax dollars and there is no requirement for state employee participation.
- While PERS pension costs are skyrocketing, the PERS system continues to operate a second, 401K-style retirement savings plan in addition to the pension plan. Taxpayers should not be required to pay for two retirement plans, when the pension plan alone is bankrupting our state.
- If Oregon taxpayers’ contributions to government employee health plan premiums were at the U.S. average, the state could save hundreds of millions of dollars per budget cycle to invest in schools and other services.
Bottom Line: Before making cuts to education, healthcare and other essential services for Oregonians, or before putting additional tax burden on citizens or business, we must curb Oregon’s rapidly rising Public Employee Retirement System (PERS) costs and high government employee healthcare costs.
Individuals who receive or are currently in the PERS program clearly deserve their benefits; those are the benefits that were agreed to when they started their career. However, PERS reforms is a reality that our state needs to face moving forward if we hope to see any balance of between taxes and services.
I encourage you to take a moment to look through the Ways and Means Committee budget framework. You can find it on our website at www.tillamookchamber.org/chamber-chatter by clicking on this story. If you can’t make the meeting and have input for the Ways and Means Committee you can submit testimony via email at email@example.com or email our State Senator Betsy Johnson directly (who is a Ways and Means Vice Co-Chair) at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Chamber Board and myself value your input and insight. Feel free to contact us anytime at email@example.com.