'They start making the rules they benefit from'Some Oregon legislators are living up to the stereotype of politicians who put themselves first and the general welfare last. As part of its revision of the Public Employee Retirement System, the Legislature failed to address the situation when a legislator takes a highly paid public job.

The Oregonian reported last week that when legislators Tony Corcoran and John Minnis take their new public jobs, their PERS benefits will jump exponentially.

Nick Urhausen of Eugene, who handles federal pension claims for the Social Security Administration, told The Oregonian, "Elected officials should not be part of the PERS. That's what's contaminated this whole thing. They start making the rules that they benefit from."

House Majority Leader Tim Knopp says that increased PERS benefits such as will be enjoyed by Corcoran and Minnis should come after a minimum of 10 years, not three years.

Unfortunately, Congress offers state legislatures no guide in how to structure a retirement program. The benefit lavished on congressmen and senators in retirement are known by a relative few in the private sector. It is a costly retirement program whose true cost is a closely guarded number.

There were at least two reasons why reforming PERS was urgent business for the 2003 Oregon Legislature. The system was unaffordable. That is, its costs threatened to sink school districts and municipalities. Secondly, at a time when private sector workers' 401(k) programs are rolling with the punches of the investment world, PERS retirees enjoyed a generous defined benefit program.

There has always been a level of job security that comes with employment in the public sector. But PERS overplayed that disparity, between public and private, to an extent that could not be ignored. Legislators who reap extraordinary retirement benefits from PERS easily give the rest of us the impression that they were only in it for the money.

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