SALEM, Ore. -- A Monday legislative hearing in Oregon’s capitol building brought out hundreds of firefighters and others ready to push back against proposed changes to their retirement funds.
The men and women in yellow union shirts filled a hearing room and spilled out into the hallway. Many feel the changes are unfair.
“I think it’s time once and for all for the state of Oregon to meet its commitment to me and to all the public employees who are here today to share their stories,” said Salem firefighter Brandon Silence.
But state senator Tim Knopp, a Republican from Bend, says those stories will get worse if something isn’t done to stop the runaway deficit.
“If we fail to do that, we’re going to have a catastrophic failure of the system," he said.
The stated deficit in the pension fund is $22 billion.
Knopp worries the amount owned by taxpayers to future retirees is really closer to $55 billion, and will suck money out of schools and fire departments and local governments to pay for it.
“There’s no question its real,” said Knopp.
He held a hearing today on two bills, SB 559 and SB 560. One would lower the highest pay calculation used when someone is retiring and mean they’d get less money monthly. The other would designate money set aside in a public retiree’s 401k type plan, as part of their pension payment.
Those gathered did not like it.
“These cuts go far beyond breaking the promises made to us when we were hired. This is a state, this is a state raid on our personal retirement accounts,” said Travis Overly, a 38-year-old teacher from Bend.
Another worker said it would be catastrophic to her. Barbara Walsh is an office specialist in the child welfare branch in Medford.
“If my PERS were to be cut, retirement would not be an option. I think I’d just have to die in my cubicle,” she said.
But Knopp, the lawmaker is pushing back.
“The answer that we can’t have is ‘no' because no fix means ultimately we’re going to have a catastrophic failure of the PERS system and that could affect retirees and everyone who has an account. And that’s just not acceptable to us,” he said.