Conger, Knopp press the need for PERS reform

Lawmakers see it as key to protect vital services

Amid a new state revenue forecast out Friday, two Bend lawmakers weighed in on the need for state pension system reform during the current legislative session.

After Friday's release of the state's new economic and revenue forecast, Rep. Jason Conger (R-Bend) said the Legislature must focus on promoting opportunity, encouraging private-sector job creation and passing major PERS reforms to fund education and other critical services. 

State forecasters announced a slight increase in projected revenues for the 2011-13 and 2013-15 biennia.

"State economists are forecasting slow economic growth and a slight increase in tax revenues," said Conger, a member of the House Revenue Committee. "But this ‘recovery' is not generating enough jobs for Oregon families."

"The Legislature should pass measures to encourage more hiring, and we must focus on growing small businesses and other employers here in Central Oregon and other areas in the state," Conger said in a news release.

Despite the increase in tax revenues, Conger said the state doesn't have enough money to sustain services at current levels.

He said he'll work across the aisle to find ways to save money, deliver needed state services more efficiently and continue to pursue major PERS reforms to increase funding for Oregon classrooms and essential state programs.

"Oregon families continue to struggle and, without addressing PERS and other cost drivers in state and local government, the state cannot afford to provide the services Oregonians need," Conger said. "Throughout this session, I will work on reforming our pension system to protect our schools and balance the budget."

The estimated $900 million increase facing state and local governments and school districts to fund projected PERS increases also was the focus of a Bend Chamber forum Friday morning.

The governor and lawmakers say the rising PERS contributions have hit schools and government agencies hard for years.

State Sen. Tim Knopp, R-Bend, said that left unchecked, the rising PERS costs will continue to eat into the budgets for basic, necessary government services.

"If we don't fix the problem, we're going to have fewer firefighters that can respond to fires, we're going to have fewer police officers that can respond in an emergency, and we're going to have fewer teachers in the classroom," Knopp said. "And we'll have class sizes of 50-plus kids. And I don't think the public wants that."

Gov. John Kitzhaber has proposed a plan to limit the yearly cost of living adjustment for PERS retirees. That would help reduce PERS costs by up to $800 million a year.

Legislative leaders say the state Supreme Court won't allow such a change, but the state Department of Justice says parts of that plan would be legal.

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