SALEM, Oregon – With Oregon’s legislative session in full swing, AFSCME Local 3580 President Elizabeth Goetzinger is especially excited to join her fellow union members at one of Council 75’s lobby days at the state capitol.
The issue at the forefront of everyone’s mind? Oregon’s Public Employee Retirement System, or PERS.
“I work hard every day to give back to my community as a public service worker and I expect the promise of my retirement to be there when it’s time for me to retire,” said Goetzinger, who works for Metro, a governmental agency that serves 1.5 million people in three Oregon counties.
“Part of the reason I go is to let legislators see the faces of public employees. So instead of seeing expenditure lines on a budget, they get to meet me, Elizabeth, the Metro Department project manager, and hear about the work I do on behalf of my community and the concerns I have about the direction of our state,” she added.
PERS has more than $68 billion in assets and provides retirement benefits to more than 300,000 people. In 2015, the Oregon Supreme Court ruled that laws passed in 2013 to “reform” PERS violated the state’s constitution. The measures did away with cost-of-living adjustments and tax credits for retirees living outside Oregon, which the court ruled could not be adjusted retroactively.
To plug a $1.8 billion budget deficit, Oregon lawmakers are once proposing to shrink PERS benefits. AFSCME members in Oregon argue the state should instead increase corporate taxes and leave PERS alone. They note that PERS beneficiaries, on average, receive an annual income of less than $30,000 a year – hardly a princely sum.
Oregon AFSCME members are making their voices heard at the state capitol to stress PERS’ importance to the retirement security of public service workers.
“Letting legislators know how important PERS is to me, my family and to the members of our union … is incredibly important,” said Goetzinger, adding that’s why “it's incredibly important to go to Salem for one of our lobby days.”