Editorial from the Bend Bulletin

Escapist fantasy can make for great tales — “Stranger Things,” Snow White, you name it.

The outcome is not so good when Oregon’s leaders spin their fantasies on the public. C. John Larson, president of the Oregon Education Association, recently told a story of how the state’s $25 billion state pension unfunded liability is due to past mistakes. Like the best stories, there’s plenty of truth in that. The shortfall certainly isn’t due to future mistakes.

Larson went on to say: “The responsibility for paying those legacy costs should not be shifted to employees who had no role in creating the issue.”

He has a point. Why should employees get stuck paying off a $25 billion Public Employees Retirement System bill they had no role in creating? That’s unfair.

We’re guessing, though, that you didn’t play much of a role in creating the $25 billion liability, either. Why should you get stuck with it?

Larson represents teachers, so he understandably wants to protect their interests. And teachers and other public employees do certainly deserve a pension system similar to a 401k. But everyone is going to be stuck paying off that $25 billion. Relying on taxes alone, though, would do harm to the state’s economy.

Parents, teachers and children are going to start seeing significant PERS impacts in the schools. Bend-La Pine Schools may see a $5 million increase in its costs for the 2019-2020 school year because of increased contributions it will be required to make to PERS. The district spends about $88 million on salaries now. The increase could mean the district may soon have to cut teachers, pay or the number of days children are in school. It’s not going to be good for anyone.

Gov. Kate Brown and the Democrats that control state government dwell in their own escapist fantasy about PERS. Brown recently thanked a committee she created to look for PERS solutions for leaving “no idea unexamined and no rock unturned.” That too, was more spin than substance. She had directed the committee to do just what Larson dreams: hide possible solutions under a rock. Brown wanted no changes in pension benefits or contributions.