Oregon PERS Reforms: The Supreme Court Will See You Now


Two major reform measures are finally ready for their day in the Oregon Supreme Court.

Public employees are challenging the 2013 reforms –which reduced the state’s unfunded pension liabilities by $5 billion by cutting COLAs and scaling back benefits – on the grounds that the measures broke contracts protected under the state’s constitution.

This week, both sides submitted their written briefings to the Supreme Court. Reported by the Oregonian:

Monday marked the deadline for written briefings to the Oregon Supreme Court, where public employees are challenging the legality of two pension reform bills enacted last year.

The laws reduced retirees’ annual cost of living increases and eliminated a benefit bump-up for out-of-state retirees that don’t pay taxes in Oregon. As such, they helped staunch the precipitous rise in required contributions to the system since the 2008 financial crisis decimated the fund’s investment portfolio and opened up a $16 billion funding gap.

Oral arguments will be held Oct. 14. Each side will have one hour. After that, public employers, the governor, lawmakers, employees and retirees can hold their collective breath, with a decision anticipated during expected in time for the 2015 Legislative session.

A quick breakdown of what we can expect each side to argue, from the Oregonian:

The Legislature referred any challenges to the bills directly to the Supreme Court to expedite the legal decision process. Public employees appealed the changes, arguing in briefs filed earlier this summer that the benefit changes violate the contract clauses of the Oregon and U.S. constitutions and amount to an illegal taking of private property without compensation.

The state and public employers maintain that the cost of living adjustments, contrary to previous decisions by the court, is not an immutable part of the contract. And even if it is, they maintain it can be changed, as the Legislature has done previously.

Likewise, they argue that the extra payments to cover beneficiaries’ state tax liabilities aren’t part of the contract and can be eliminated for out-of-state retirees who don’t pay Oregon taxes.

Legislators briefly weighed enacting another round of pension reforms this year, but they decided against it.

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