Published: May 8, 2019

Tell your Legislator to stand up to the lies and stop this attack on public employees.

While Senate Republicans walked out on their jobs Tuesday to delay a vote on the Oregon Student Success Act, their spokesperson got a little unhinged on Twitter. His misstep is an opportunity to correct the lies and misinformation that are ever present in the conversation around PERS, Oregon’s Public Employee Retirement System.

Here’s the tweet.

Let’s break this down piece by piece. First, the tweet falsely claims that PERS recipients are “white, rich and well-connected.”

  • People of color are over represented in the public sector nationally and that holds true in Oregon.
  • Public employees in Oregon earn 88% of what comparable private sector jobs pay. So we’re certainly not rich.
  • Most of us have strong unions. So you could say we’re well-represented. But it’s clear that he’s insinuating an “insider” or an “elite,” which is certainly not the case. Most public employees are just regular people — teachers, firefighters, administrators and classified staff at public universities.

Second, the tweet falsely claims that PERS recipients take in more in a month than the average household does in a year. This is a Mt Hood-sized lie. And it’s done intentionally to stoke a pervasive, false idea that PERS benefits are too generous. Here are the facts:

  • The average pension is about $2,500 a month. Anyone living off $2,500 a month isn’t going to like it when you tell them they’re over compensated.
  • Most public employees are OPSRP members, which is the lower-benefit retirement program created in 2003. OPSRP members do not contribute to the pension debt in a significant way.
  • Public employees have consistently traded higher salaries for retirement and healthcare benefits, which makes those benefits appear high when viewed in isolation. But when you look at total compensation — which is the bottom line cost of an employee and the correct metric to base policy on — we’re at 97.5% of market. In other words, less than what comparable employees cost private sector employers.

The pension debt is a real problem that needs to be addressed. But we can’t keep cutting benefits to address the problem, as we’ve done every time this has come up in the past. Instead, we need to look to new solutions, such as selling state assets, amortization changes and other fresh ideas.

Public employees didn’t cause this problem, and we can’t keep asking them to bail our state’s leadership out.