Last Minute Maneuvers

This past week in Salem we’ve seen a lot of maneuvering (both attempted and successful) around Legislative “endgame” negotiations for issues having to deal with revenue, infrastructure, and PERS. The Legislature’s policy committees are functionally shut down, so the only committees still working are Rules, Revenue, and the budget-writing Ways & Means Committee. ORCOPS is working with legislators and stakeholders to defend against bad legislation, hold tough on PERS, and try to put together a few good wins.

On Wednesday, the House Judiciary Committee held an informational hearing on officer-involved domestic violence. Each session, Portland attorney Jason Kafoury brings forward a legislative concept designed to mandate specific one-size-fits-all requirements regarding local officer-involved DV policies. This week, his testimony to the committee on the concept (no bill was under consideration) was mostly complaints about the lack of progress. He specifically noted that the “politically powerful” police unions have blocked the legislation time and again, and erroneously suggested that the Clackamas County Sheriff’s Office specifically had not adopted any officer-involved DV policies (which is false). ORCOPS was the only line officer organization in the hearing room ready to rebut, but in the interest of time only the lobbyist for the Chiefs’ Association spoke about the work being done in this area at the local level.

The big issue still on the table is PERS “reforms.” Recently, a measure was floated (you may have read about it in the Oregonian) that would ask public employees to begin covering more of their retirement benefits. ORCOPS is not supporting this measure. Our friends at AFSCME (which also is not supporting the measure), did a good job of summarizing it:

“The idea is that over the next several years there would be a shift on to employees to cover more of their retirement. That shift will come from a percentage shift from members’ individual accountants that they receive in addition to your pension, called the IAP. In basic terms starting July 2018, 1% of the money going into an employee’s IAP would be redirected and go into a fund that would cover the employer’s PERS rate. Then in the 2019-2020 budget cycle another 1% would be diverted. After that, it would depend how much the rate employers have to pay to cover the cost of PERS.  f the rate increases another 2% then that is on the employers.  Any increases above that would be split 50/50 with members but never more than a total of 4% out of the IAP and never more than 1% a year. In addition, if the employer rates for the normal cost of PERS drops then members would get money back into their IAP.”

There are several problems with this proposal. First, while the idea is presumably to free up additional funds for public employers to spend on services, it balances that on the backs of public employees — many, if not all of whom decided to become public employees with certain understandings about their pension system. ORCOPS believes that to renegotiate terms going forward is tantamount to cutting into benefits already earned. At the current moment, the bill does not seem poised to move: the Democrats in control of the Legislature are demanding significant revenue concessions from the Republicans (the Democrats do not have the three-fifths supermajority needed to increase taxes on their own) before moving the concept, but Republican leaders have already called the plan “PERS Reform Lite” and indicated that this is not sufficient to draw their attention. However, we remain concerned that it may become part of a larger package, and we remain vigilant. That vigilance takes the form of coordinating our outreach efforts with the other public employee groups and meeting with leadership and legislators to express our opposition to balancing the budget on the backs of workers. ORCOPS had productive discussions with the Bend delegation this past week, Senator Tim Knopp (R) and Representative Knute Buehler (R). We discussed a desire for the legislature to focus on finding efficiencies in the PERS system that could cut into costs and liabilities without touching benefits, such as investment division restructuring supported by the State Treasurer that could save $3 billion in liabilities. Governor Brown has recently assembled a task force charged with finding ways to reduce PERS liabilities by $5 billion, and is expected to make recommendations in November.

Meanwhile, House Speaker Tina Kotek (D – Portland) and Senator Mark Hass (D – Beaverton) have introduced a tax plan that will be aired to a joint taxation committee. The plan is expected to raise $900 million in the next biennium through progressive increases in business tax rates. The business community may yet support the plan if it is coupled with PERS “reforms” (see the above paragraph on why we are staying vigilant). With only several weeks left in session (the Legislature must adjourn by July 10 unless a supermajority allows a continuation), some are wondering if a “special session” will need to be called this Fall.

As the session winds down, ORCOPS remains focused and consistent as we advocate for Law Enforcement on the policy issues that impact the lives of our officers in Oregon.

Daryl Turner, President
Oregon Coalition of Police and Sheriffs