PERS: Take that winding road toward reform

Local government, public education and state agency budgets are stretched thin, and everyone realizes that one solution involves reform of Oregon’s Public Employee Retirement System. Turning that perception into reality may be a long and winding legislative road, but a road well worth taking.

Two years ago, unions provided the funding and foot soldiers to put Democrat John Kitzhaber over the top in a tight, hard-fought battle with Republican Chris Dudley. And public employee unions led the way.

This year, Democrats retained a majority in the Oregon Senate and seized control of the House, giving Kitzhaber his first-ever taste of full party sway. Once again, public employee unions were key political players.

With that background, our expectations for meaningful PERS reform didn’t exactly soar with Kitzhaber’s call to action in an address to the Oregon School Boards Association in November. Still, if anyone can pull off such a feat, it’s John Kitzhaber.

The governor has greater legislative and leadership skills than those of his recent predecessors. He is a master at finding common ground and drawing others to it, from all sides of political, social, environmental and yes, labor-management divides.

Kitzhaber also has plenty of solid backing on this issue. There is growing recognition in the Oregon business community and among Oregonians in general that PERS excesses have decimated public budgets and that reform is a must.

Both the governor and his working majorities in the House and Senate are beholden to public employee unions. That was evident in Kitzhaber’s opening salvo of the campaign, at least to those who understand the enormity of the PERS challenge.

PERS is a multi-headed beast, and Kitzhaber is proposing to lop off a few of those menacing heads. If that’s the best we can manage, some will say, we’ll take what we can get and be grateful for the governor’s leadership. But it’s not enough.

Oregonians thought the PERS reforms of 2003 would solve the crisis, but far from it. Some of those changes were rejected through subsequent legal challenges, while other reforms simply failed to stem the practices that most contribute to the PERS problems.

Proponents of reform agree that public employee retirement payments must be fair and sustainable, and that challenges to the system must withstand legal challenge. Leaders have clearly identified key areas of reform needed to reverse disturbing PERS financial trends, with more finely tuned details to come.

Make no mistake, there is a huge problem. The PERS board acknowledges an underfunded liability of $16 billion, while an independent worst-case-scenario study says the shortfall is $90 billion. Widespread teacher layoffs and public service cutbacks attest to the immediate impact, and there’s no end in sight without reforms.

Some will assess the political landscape and settle for the best we can get. We urge Oregonians to resist half-way measures, and to join the growing chorus of voices that see 2013 as an opportune time to cut through the rhetoric and make the critical decisions needed to stabilize public budgets.

— Reprinted courtesy of McMinnville News-Register

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Parkdale third graders sing "12 Disaster Days of Christmas"

Welcome to your sing-able Christmas gift list. What follows is an emergency rendition of “12 Days of Christmas” – for outfitting your home or car in case of snow storm, earthquake, flood or other emergency. Read it as a simple list, or sing it to the tune of “12 Days” – you know, as in “ … and a partridge in a pear tree…” Not to make light of it, but the song is a familiar framework for a set of gift ideas that you could consider gathering together, even if the recipient already owns items such as a bunch of coats, tire chains and flashlights. Stores throughout the Gorge are stocked up on all these items. Buying all 12 days might be prohibitive, but here are three ideas for checking any of the dozen off your list (notations follow, 1-12.) The gift items needed to stay warm, dry and safe are also coded to suggest items in your abode (A) in your car (C) or both (B). 12 Gallons of Water (A) 11 Family meals (B) 10 Cans of propane (A) 9 Hygiene bags (B) 8 Packs of batteries (A) 7 Spare coats (B) 6 Bright red flares (C) 5 Cozy blankets (B) 4 Tire chains (C) 3 Flashlights (B) 2 cell phone chargers (B) 1 And a crush-proof first aid kit (B) Price ranges? Here’s a few quotes for days Three, Two, Four and Nine: n A family gift of flashlights (three will run $15-30, Hood River Supply, Tum-A-Lum) n Cell phone chargers (two will run $30-60) n Tire chains (basic set, $30, Les Schwab, returnable if unused for the winter) n Family meals ($100 or so should cover the basics for three or four reasonably well-fed days) n The home kit should be kept in a handy place near an exit, and remember that water needs to be replenished every few months. If you have a solid first aid kit already, switch out the gift idea with “and-a-sto-o-u-t- tub-for it-all …” Otherwise, it’s a case of assembling your home or car kits and making sure all members of the family know what the resources are and how to use them (ie flares and propane). Emergency situations are at worst life-threatening, at best deeply uncomfortable if you and your family are left without power for an extended period, or traveling and find yourself in a situation where you need to wait out a storm, lengthy traffic delay, or other crisis. Notes on the 12 gift ideas: 12 – Gallons of water: that’s one per person in a four-member family to last for three days, the recommended minimum to be prepared for utility outages. 11 – Easy-open packaged goods, energy bars, dried food and nuts are good things to include for nutrition. Think of what your family of four needs for three days to stay fortified and hydrated (see number 12). Can-opener also recommended 10 – If you have a propane camping stove, keep extra fuel handy. 9 – Hygiene bags: put packaged moistened towelettes, toilet paper, and plastic ties in large garbage bags (for personal sanitation) Resource list courtesy of Hood River County Emergency Management, Barbara Ayers, manager/ 541-386-1213. The county also reminds residents to Get a Kit, Make A Plan to connect your family if separated, and Stay Informed. See to opt-in for citizen alerts. Enlarge

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