Legislative update on Education and PERS bills. Time to panic?

From OSU’s Jock Mills. Sorry, I meant to post this a while back.

OSU also has a helpful page on whether or not you should panic over the proposed PERS reforms here. Also check Mr. Fearless here and the Legislative site on SB 650 here. Rumor has it that some departments are already seeing retirements.

Subject: [Government_Relations_Update] April Update: Higher Ed., Bills of Note, and OSU Day at the Capitol

Date: April 10, 2017 at 12:46:08 PM PDT

As the Oregon legislature nears the halfway point in the 2017 session, the next two weeks will be among its busiest. Friday, April 7th marked the last day for posting committee work sessions for bills in their chambers of origin, meaning that if a House bill hadn’t been listed on a House committee agenda for consideration, that bill can be considered “dead.” Same for Senate bills in Senate committees. Now the committees have until April 18th to actually pass the bills they have posted. So, for the next two weeks committee agendas are packed with bills vying for survival, while advocates of all stripes are working hard to keep them alive or kill them.

Bills that do not pass out of committee by April 18th can also be considered dead. Of course, no bill is “totally dead” until the last gavel falls. Provisions from dead bills can always be stuffed into other bills that are alive and well. (In the Oregon legislature amendments can only be accomplished in committees, not on the chamber floors.)

A good number of the bills up for consideration over the next two weeks may make it out of their committees, only to find themselves in another committee not subject to legislative deadlines. For example, bills that are a prioritybut which contain controversial provisions that need more work may end up in the Senate or House Rules Committee. Once there, those bills may sit and wait for consideration as part of the overall legislative log-rolling process. Other bills that have a fiscal impact because they require state funding to be implemented will find themselves in the Joint Ways & Means Committee. That committee will generally not consider individual bills until after it has completed work on agency budgets. In many cases bills can be folded in to agency spending bills. That process will continue for the next several months.

The legislature has until July 10th to complete its work. And, it will likely not be able to adjourn until it has coordinated and completed work on a patchwork of “mega issues,” including revenue reform; a transportation package; PERS reform; health care reform, including a health provider tax; housing affordability; and a balanced budget that will include a number of cost reductions needed to achieve that budget. Over the last six weeks legislative committees and task forces, some of them in open forums, others in closed-door work groups, have been developing proposals for many of these issues. In the coming months, all of these issues must come together in a manner that will attract the necessary votes to gain passage. For votes involving tax increases, a three-fifths bipartisan supermajority will be needed in each of the chambers.

Concessions made in one package may require adjustments in another. The process is one large, simultaneous equation with multiple unsolved variables. In the end, all of the pieces need to fit together. Compounding the mega issues are a number of other discrete policy issues that may increase friction between the two parties as well as between the two chambers. Differences of opinion between chambers can sometimes be as fractious and disruptive as differences between parties.

The good news so far is that “The Oregon Way” has not yet involved “nuclear options” or filibusters. But we have miles yet to travel and significant obstacles to overcome before the session is complete.

Higher Education

Budget Hearings: This week the Joint Ways & Means Education Subcommittee begins to hear directly from universities regarding their operating budgets. For the past several weeks the subcommittee has heard from the Higher Education Coordinating Commission and community colleges. OSU President Ed Ray will lead off the presentations this Wednesday, April 12th, joined by panelists from the other four-year universities. On Thursday, April 13th leaders from the three OSU Statewide Public Service Programs – Extension, Agricultural Experiment Station, and Forest Research Laboratory will discuss their budgets. Cindy Sagers, OSU vice president for research and OSU Engineering student, Bret Lorimore, will also address the subcommittee on the importance of university research.

Public Testimony: The subcommittee will take public testimony on university budgets at 8:30 AM on Monday, April 17th. Individuals interested in participating in the public hearing should contact us as soon as possible: jock.mills@oregonstate.edu. Those interested in monitoring any of the hearings can do so via the legislative website:https://www.oregonlegislature.gov/citizen_engagement/Pages/Legislative-Video.aspx

OSU’s focus for testimony before the Ways & Means Education Subcommittee continues to focus on the following priorities:

  • Support at least a $100 million increase for Oregon’s public universities to achieve a comparable level of funding to the current biennium and to avoid unaffordable tuition increases and program reductions.
  • Recover $9.4 million in budget reductions to the OSU Statewide Public Service Programs–the Extension Service, Agricultural Experiment Station, and Forest Research Laboratory. See comprehensive information regarding the advocacy effort aimed at Senate Bill 805 for the OSU Statewides here.
  • Fully fund the Oregon Opportunity Grant–the state’s need-based student financial aid program for community college and university students.

Capital Projects: The Ways & Means Capital Construction Committee has yet to meet to consider the many anticipated bonding projects for the 2017 session. Higher education projects under consideration in that committee include a consolidated list of projects recommended by the seven university presidents totaling $284 million across all seven public universities. Included in that list is $65 million for capital renewal to be shared among the seven campuses; $9 million in bonds matched by $9 million in philanthropic donations for a quality food and beverage initiative at OSU focusing on cheese, wine and beer; $20 million for site preparation and infrastructure improvements at the OSU-Cascades campus in Bend; and a number of deferred maintenance projects.

Once the $284 million multi-university package is attained, OSU is also seeking an additional $49 million for OSU-Cascades to complete two additional buildings–an academic building and a student services building. In March, the House Higher Education Committee approved HB2782 which would provide the $69.5 million needed to fully fund the OSU-Cascades campus expansion. That bill is now awaiting consideration in the Joint Ways & Means Committee.

Bills of Note

Since our last report, the following bills have made progress:

  • Vaccines for Outbreaks (HB 3276). OSU is working with the seven public universities and Rep. Nancy Nathanson (D-Eugene) on a bill that would ensure that vaccines are made available to students and others during major outbreaks of contagious diseases such as meningitis. The bill is undergoing a number of amendments and will be considered by the House Health Care Committee on Wednesday, April 12th.
  • State match for the Pacific Marine Energy Center (SB 285). On Monday, April 10th, the Senate Environment and Natural Resources Committee will consider SB 285 which would provide $4 million in state funds to help match a $40 million US Department of Energy grant for which OSU successfully competed in 2014. OSU is also working to raise private industry and philanthropic funds for this project. For more information on the grant, click here.
  • University Research “Fighting Fund” (HB 2582). This bill would establish a $20 million fund to support universities as they compete for federal grants. The bill is scheduled for a work session on Thursday, April 13th, when the House Higher Education Committee will consider an amendment that will establish the fund but provide the legislature with greater flexibility in determining when and how to transfer revenues into the fund. If adopted, the amended bill would establish a process by which, during the February short sessions, the legislature will consider adding $5 million to the fund over the next four biennia. The goal would be to maintain the fund at the $20 million level as universities succeed in achieving federal grants.
  • Resolution commending the OSU Women’s Basketball team (SCR 17). On Wednesday, April 12th the Senate Rules Committee will consider SCR 17 which commends the achievements during the 2015-16 season when the OSU women went to the final four in the NCAA tournament. The Committee will consider amendments to the resolution that add the team’s accomplishments during the 2016-17 season.
  • Animal Trafficking (HB 2576). This bill contains technical changes to Ballot Measure 100, passed by voters last November. The ballot measure restricts the sale and trade of endangered species and parts and products from identified endangered species. As amended by the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee, the bill clarifies exemptions in the ballot measure to ensure that universities and community colleges in Oregon can continue to routinely improve their collections for educational and research purposes through sales, trades, exchanges, and purchases of specimens. The bill was amended and approved by the House Committee on March 23rd, and on April 3rd the House approved the bill by a vote of 58-0. The bill is now in the Senate where it will be considered by the Senate Environment and Natural Resources Committee.
  • Open Education Resources (HB 2729). On March 28th, the House Higher Education Committee amended and approved HB 2729, which would continue funding for open education resources, also known as OERs or “free textbooks.” The bill is now under the consideration of the Joint Ways & Means Committee.
  • Health benefits for employees who work at multiple institutions (SB 196).  This bill seeks to continue efforts to extend health benefits to faculty when their combined hours at multiple institutions add up to more than half-time.  This issue has been considered in prior sessions and was the subject of an interim study, but complications in defining hours and benefits between community colleges and universities have prevented benefits from being extended to faculty employed at both.  Benefits are already available for faculty who work over half-time at multiple universities.  The bill will be considered by the Senate Education Committee on Tuesday, April 11th
  • PERS benefits for Post-Docs (SB 214). Because post-doctoral research positions typically do not last five years, few, if any, post-doctoral scholars fully vest in PERS or ORP. This bill would enable an alternative retirement program for post-docs at public universities to ensure that they can transfer their benefits when they move on to another employer. The bill will be considered by the Senate Workforce Committee on Monday, April 10th. For a fact sheet that explains the bill click here. OSU will be providing additional information regarding the overall issue of PERS reform bills later this week.

Join us for OSU Day at the Capitol – Thursday, April 20th

Please consider joining advocates in support of Oregon State University on Thursday, April 20th for OSU Day at the Capitol. For information about the activities planned for the day: click here.


See this and other updates at blogs.oregonstate.edu/government

Attorneys Bill Gary and Greg Hartman explain PERS law to legislators

I’m posting this for my own notes, since faculty union bargaining starts in less than 12 months.

Bill Gary is the Harrang, Long, Gary and Rudnick attorney who, along with Sharon Rudnick, represented the State’s side in the Moro case in the Oregon Supreme Court, over Kitzhaber’s attempt to roll back PERS benefits. Gary does a great job explaining just how badly they lost this case: “With respect to benefits that have already been earned, the court has ruled that you can’t touch them.”

Greg Hartman was the attorney for the state employees and unions, who won Moro. Hartman does a great job explaining how the Moro decision means that current employees at state agencies – and UO –  will now be paid lower wages, because of the need to pay the PERS bill for retired workers such as Mike Bellotti.

Of course taxpayers will also take a hit, as will those who depend on state services.

Video here, links to the committee’s agenda and documents here. For more on PERS read the always cantankerous Mr. Fearless, here.

OHSU neurosurgeon boots Duck’s Bellotti from top PERS spot

Saul Hubbard has the sad news in the RG here, along with a list of the current top 100.

Ted Sickinger’s amazing 2011 story on how the people of Oregon came to be paying former Duck football coach Mike Bellotti $500K a year in pension benefits is here. In essence, Bellotti’s PERS payout was based on a calculation that included all the money he got in bonuses and Nike deals, even though UO never paid anything from those payments into PERS. (This on top of the buyout deal he got after former UO GC Melinda Grier neglected to get a written contract for him, and then assistant GC Doug Park helped hide that from reporters.)

As Sickinger explained, a large part of the amount that state agencies (and UO) must pay for PERS isn’t going into investments that will support retirement costs for current workers, it’s going to pay current retirees, because the state agencies didn’t put in enough back when those retirees were working.

This situation has gotten worse. The PERS by the Numbers report for April 2016 notes that 40% of PERS costs now go to make up that deficit:

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And this is despite the fact that PERS reforms have cut the amount of money that new retirees get to sensible levels:

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But that’s not enough to put the system in balance, given the high payouts to earlier retirees. PERS is now only 71% funded, and the expectation is for a large new increase in how much UO and other state agencies will have to contribute. As Hubbard notes:

The latest calculations by the PERS actuary, released last week, showed that Oregon public agencies will have to shoulder an additional $885 million in pension costs in the 2017-19 biennium, a 44 percent increase.

Part of that increase was expected after the Oregon Supreme Court threw out some cost-curbing PERS changes in mid-2015. Those changes included a reduction in PERS cost-of-living increases, particularly on large pensions.

Just don’t make the mistake of counting those costs as a benefit to current workers, as VPFA Jamie Moffitt does.

PERS updates your predicted death date

After HLGR’s Sharon Rudnick and William F. Gary lost the Oregon Supreme Court case case defending Kitzhaber’s PERS reforms – just *how* much did they bill? – this was one of the few remaining cost-savings measures possible. FORTRAN programmer Mr. Fearless does the math for potential retirees on his excellent Persinfo blog, here:

In the example used for Money Match members, the setback appears to be approximately 5 months.  That means that the benefit you receive on December 1, 2015 (if you are eligible to retire), won’t be the same again unless you continue working until May 1, 2016.  This is one of the longest setbacks in recent history. Many people will wonder what to do.  My answer is that if you were not planning to retire in the next six months, it probably makes no difference.

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UO will pay higher PERS costs, employees will get lower benefits

Ted Sickinger has the report in the Oregonian, here. This will start in 2017. I’m no actuary, but the combination of lower assumed earnings and longer assumed life expectancies will mean a decrease in the monthly payout from the PERS annuity you get when you retire. At the same time lower assumed earnings will mean that employers will need to pay in more to keep the PERS books balanced, and longer assumed life expectancies will mean employers will have to pay in more to cover the expected costs of the annuities of past retirees.

Will VPFA Jamie Moffitt and “Around the 0” spin this increase in the cost of UO retirement benefits as an increase in the total compensation of UO faculty and staff, during the current union bargaining. Maybe something like

“Look! Your already generous benefit package will get even more generous in 2017! You don’t need a pay raise!”

A statement like this would be transparently false, but given that there’s still no retraction of the most recent “Around the O” post on benefits and the UO Senate White Paper goals, it would be in keeping with past UO statements.

One way that UO might consider saving money would be to revise the current Tenure Reduction Program, to encourage higher paid senior faculty to retire, so they can be replaced with cheaper, younger ones. The current TRP is not a very good deal for faculty, and since it is not aimed at faculty on the margin of retiring or continuing to work, it is not an effective program from the cost side either.

Don’t cry for Mike Bellotti – PERS decision boosts his take back up to $13M

Ted Sickinger’s amazing 2011 story on how the people of Oregon came to be paying former Duck coach Mike Bellotti $500K a year in pension benefits is here. In essence, Bellotti PERS payout is based on all the money he got in bonuses and Nike deals, even though the state never withheld anything for PERS. This on top of the buyout deal he got after former UO GC Melinda Grier neglected to get a written contract for him, and then assistant GC Doug Park helped keep that from reporters.

As Sickinger’s story explains, a good chunk of state PERS costs go to fund past deals like these – not to accumulate reserves for the retirement of current workers. And the UO administration bargaining team will soon use these costs to argue that they can’t afford raises for the faculty and staff.

Bellotti was one of the big losers from the 2013 reforms, which cut COLA increases from 2% a year on the full pension payment to 1.25% on the first $60K plus only 0.15% for amounts over that. So he’s a big winner from the recent Oregon Supreme Court ruling that restored the 2% rate. Regular retirees will benefit a little – but people like Bellotti with big PERS checks are the big winners.

The Gain columns are per year – e.g. Bellotti’s payout for 2015 will be $109,147  higher after this court decision, a more typical state worker will get $6,290 more.

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Note: Everything is in future values – i.e. not discounted back to reflect the time value of money. These calculations are back of the envelope and don’t consider all the twists in the law, including some retroactive payments that PERS will now have to make, e.g. for 2014.

HLGR’s William F. Gary and Sharon Rudnick lose another big one

No I don’t meet another zip drive of public records. I mean the Oregon Supreme Court case on the 2013 PERS reforms. Laura Gunderson of the Oregonian has the details on today’s OSC ruling here:

The Oregon Supreme Court issued a ruling on Thursday harkening back to a basic playground rule: If you make a promise, you can’t take it back.

In a decision that will affect every public agency budget in the state, the court ruled that it wasn’t fair to go back on promises the state made years ago to its workers. The ruling reverses two controversial changes lawmakers made to the Public Employees Retirement System two years ago.

In 2013, lawmakers aimed to stop what they saw as a drain on the state’s budget by reworking the contracts of 100,000 retirees. The change cut annual cost-of-living increases promised as part of the workers’ pension benefits.

That change, along with a few others, was set to save the state about $1 billion in the 2015-17 budget. Today’s ruling means a big hole has opened up that agencies and local governments across the state will have to fill. …

Gary and Rudnick argued that the reforms were legal. They lost – although presumably they succeeded bringing in a lot of billable hours for HLGR, paid for with taxpayer money. The winning side was represented by longtime labor lawyer Greg Hartman, among others. Full decision here:

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PERS costs to fall slightly, freeing up money for raises

Hannah Hoffman has the story in the Statesman Journal. Good news for the UO faculty. The reserve funds Jamie Moffitt set aside for increased costs will now be available to bring salaries up to the level Russ Tomlin and Scott Coltrane tried to implement in 2011. The next round of union bargaining starts in December.

Duck Coach Aliotti to get Frohnmayeresque PERS payout

4/18/2014: Ted Sickinger has the story in the Oregonian:

Aliotti is 59 years old. If he lives another 26.5 years, as PERS’ actuarial tables predict, the state pension system will pay him about $6.6 million in retirement, plus cost of living increases.

Where will that $6.6M come from? As Sickinger explained in his earlier story below, these payouts are so high because UO pulled a scam with how it treated the Nike money that is part of the coach’s compensation. So UO and OUS didn’t pay enough into PERS for to cover these payouts, and now the rest of the money will have to come by diverting payments from current UO/OUS employees.

And then the university will claim that, when they count the cost of faculty benefits, faculty are overpaid. Got it?

4/10/2012: Bellotti, Frohnmayer top PERS payouts

It took a long legal struggle, but the Oregonian has been getting data on PERS payouts from the state, bit by bit. The Ted Sickinger story on how Mike Bellotti managed to pull off his $500K pension scam is pretty amazing. It will cost taxpayers $5 million.

And here’s a bit on how Bellotti took UO for another $2.3 million, plus this. He tried to get $7 million. And now the curious/jealous/outraged/smug can now check up on their friends and colleagues retirement benefits on the Oregonian website:


Good PERS returns to reduce faculty subsidy for Bellotti’s pension?

Good news on PERS. High investment earnings and Kitzhaber’s cuts mean that it’s now 87% funded. I think that’s the best of any state pension fund. Ted Sickinger has the report, here.

But let’s face it, no one reads this blog for the good news. And the bad news is that UO is still on the hook for the unfunded pension liability of people like former football coach Mike Bellotti. Sickinger’s investigative piece on how UO’s decision to funnel Bellotti’s Nike money through UO boosted the pension for him and his wife former wife wife to ~$500K a year, and how we have to pay for it, is here.

The other good news? If you are pre-1995 Tier 1 faculty and opted into the ORP plan in 1996, (typically TIAA-CREF) UO’s contribution rate to your account is determined in part by the need to pay PERS the unfunded liability for the payouts to Bellotti and his ilk. The more Bellotti gets, the more UO has to pay PERS, and the more they have to pay into your retirement account. And if you are not Tier 1, or stayed in PERS, you don’t need to worry much about further cuts.

The bad? The S&P 500 was up 30% last year, so Treasurer Ted Wheeler 16% PERS earnings are not very impressive, even after a healthy risk adjustment. He would have done much better for the State by simply buying the basket, and furloughing his expensive stock-pickers. Also bad: If you went into the ORP, it’s now even more likely you could have done better staying in PERS. Even if you didn’t get a sweetheart deal from former UO General Counsel Melinda Grier, like Bellotti’s:

The ugly? UO’s PERS costs are set for the next 2 years, and VPFA Jamie Moffitt will likely use the fact that UO still has to pay for Bellotti in the next round of union negotiations – which will start in December – to argue that faculty are overpaid and that UO can’t afford more merit and equity money, just as she did last time. The probability that these rates will soon fall has increased, but I’m guessing if the union presses that point, Moffitt will choke and leave the room, just as she did last time.

UO promotes Don Pellum to defense coach

Update: No word on pay and perqs or Aliotti’s buy out deal, if any. Aliotti was getting $420K, see below.

“The well is dry” for external equity raises for faculty, but it’s flowing freely over at Rob Mullen’s football operations offices, thanks in no part to the millions in subsidies he gets from the academic budget. There will be a report from the Senate ad hoc committee on ending athletic department subsidies at the meeting Wednesday (Full dislosure: I’m the chair). A vote is currently scheduled for the Feb 12 meeting, unless the ad hoc committee can work out a compromise with President Gottfredson before then. Things don’t look particularly optimistic at the moment. VP for Budgeting Brad Shelton refused to let me attend the Senate Budget Committee meeting on the athletic budget on Dec 11, a week after President Gottfredson gave his support for the ad hoc committee.

12/28/2013: UO starts national affirmative-action compliant search – for football job: While the UO business school dean Kees De Kluyver just appointed the chronically underperforming Jim Bean as associate dean without any sort of search, Duck AD Rob Mullens has considerably higher standards, and is conducting a national affirmative-action compliant and transparent search for Nick Aliotti’s replacement as defensive co-ordinator. Job ad here. The top internal candidate, assistant football coach Don Pellum, currently makes $300K:

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12/27/2013: Nike payments to inflate Aliotti’s PERS pension too?

UO helped Mike Bellotti exploit a PERS loophole to collect retirement income on payments from Nike, even though no (or vastly inadequate) PERS contributions had been taken out. He’s now getting more than $500K a year, and the unfunded liability for PERS is about $5M. Payments from regular OUS employees, and Kitzhaber’s cuts to their benefits, pay for this. It looks like Aliotti is also PERS Tier 1, and will be eligible for the same sort of pork. Ted Sickinger’s amazing 2011 Oregonian expose on the Bellotti scam is here. Aliotti’s retirement announcement is on goducks.com, here. UO is paying Alliotti $420K a year, I believe that includes his Nike supplement:

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Early PERS retirees avoided 2% hit to pensions

That’s the take from OPB reporter Steve Law, in the RG:

For those affected, it’s roughly a 2 percent hit. The PERS actuary calculated that a typical 55-year-old retiring Dec. 1 on Money Match would avert a 1.9 percent reduction in his or her pension that takes effect starting with 2014 retirees. A 65-year-old in the same boat would avert a 2.3 percent reduction. But those employees could make up much or all of those losses merely by working several months longer.

The legislature had considered, but did not implement, changes that could have let to huge hits for “in-active” members such as the faculty who switched from PERS to the ORP in 1996. That uncertainly led to a least a few early UO retirements. These much smaller cuts are due to small changes in the death-tables and a cut in the assumed earnings rate for annuities.

Sickinger on PERS COLA cuts

10/8/2013: Ted Sickinger is an investigative reporter for the Oregonian. His piece on Mike Bellotti’s PERS scam was a classic.

At retirement, Bellotti’s post divorce account balance was only $300,000. The university made its own contributions over the 21 years he was employed. But combined, they won’t come close to covering the $5 million benefit reserve that PERS established to cover his payments.

Carefully documented with public records, obtained only after a long and expensive public records battle which led to the publishing of all Oregon PERS payments online:

He’s just published an excellent piece on the politics and finances behind Kitzhaber’s deal to cut the PERS COLA, and the chances the unions will be able to get it declared illegal:

… Then there’s the legal question. 

Senate Bill 861 establishes a fixed annual adjustment starting in 2014 of 1.25 percent on PERS benefit amounts up to $60,000, and 0.15 percent on benefits above that amount. That would supercede the tiered COLA limits that were passed last spring. And it would replace the adjustment in place since 1973, which was based on the cost of living index for the Portland metropolitan area and limited to 2 percent per year — applied to all benefits. …

Worth reading it all.