The Bush administration last week found a way to keep Amtrak afloat for six more months. Unfortunately, the White House and Transportation Secretary Norman Y. Mineta did not use that golden opportunity to force major surgery on the national rail system.
The state of Oregon does not have that luxury with respect to the Public Employee Retirement System (PERS). Costs related to PERS already consume significant portions of municipal and school district budgets. Soon PERS will be the retirement system that ate local governments across Oregon.
PERS Executive Director Jim Voytko has proposed termination of the PERS system, crediting members with what they have in the bank and moving into a new retirement system. In the private sector, that kind of transition is not uncommon. It is the marketplace model. If one entity becomes insolvent, put an end to the enterprise. Regroup, reorganize and re-launch.
Any incursion on PERS will be perceived by public employees as an assault on public employees. That is not mere paranoia. A ballot initiative industry repeatedly has tried to penalize the public employees unions over the past few elections, creating a reflexive defensiveness to any talk about revising PERS.
That historic antagonism must not stand in the way of cooler, non-partisan analysis and discussion. There should be a retirement system for public employees. Like any other retirement system in the private or public sector, it must be a system that its funders (local governments and state government) can afford over the long term.
Allowing the current PERS mechanism to swallow ever larger portions of local government budgets will prove nothing.