Upper Left Coast

Thoughts on politics, faith, sports and other random topics from a red state sympathizer in indigo-blue Portland, Oregon.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Ron Saxton fails the PERS test

Since before he finished third in the 2002 GOP primary, Ron Saxton has been claiming status as the idea man in the battle to rein in Public Employee Retirement System (PERS) costs.

Not so fast, Kemosabe.

As Coyote reported tonight on Northwest Republican, Saxton and his opponents were recently invited to a candidate's forum on the PERS issue; the forum was hosted by Jesse Villarreal, Jr., founder of PERS Help and author of a recent article in Brainstorm Northwest about the damning lack of transparency in the PERS system.

Jason Atkinson showed up at this forum. Kevin Mannix showed up. But Ron Saxton -- the man who supposedly brought the PERS issue to the forefront and supposedly has the monopoly on good ideas -- was nowhere to be found.

As noted in his column in Oregon Catalyst today, Villarreal said that Jason Atkinson was the best candidate to put PERS on a path to self-sufficiency, transparency and accountability. Villarreal said it was "evident Atkinson has studied PERS and has developed a comprehensive plan to protect PERS members from PERS and save Oregonians from excessive fees, loopholes and self-dealing."

Specifically, Villarreal noted these aspects of Atkinson's plan:
  • • Replace PERS with a defined contribution plan, otherwise known as a 401(k);
  • • Eliminate loopholes that award some PERS members with more favorable benefits;
  • • Stop "double-dipping," where a PERS member can retire from his job and start earning PERS retirement checks, yet go back to work for a state agency and pull in another check;
  • • Provide the opportunity for private fund managers to oversee PERS investments, thereby improving efficiency and eliminating both the monopoly aspect and the inherent conflicts of interest;
  • • Request that the attorney general audit the PERS system;
  • • Require the PERS board and members of the Oregon Investment Council to carry insurance that would protect the state against fraudulent activities and penalize those involved in fraud.
Villareal not only expressed frustration that Saxton chose to skip the forum, but said Saxton "has not developed a plan to reform PERS."

Of course, that's not what you'll hear from Saxton. His PERS commercial says Saxton "has fought to reform PERS for years." That's funny, considering the only thing about PERS on his website is buried at the end of a section on controlling state spending and taxes, and all it says is that he'll reform PERS "before it bankrupts our state."

His commercial expands on the issue by promising no changes to retirees or earnings to date, and pledging to "replace PERS with a retirement plan similar to what you have available in the private sector."

That's it. Deep, isn't it?

Of course, Saxton's trademark idea, floated last year in Brainstorm Northwest, was to fire all PERS employees and rehire them in order to void the contractual issues with PERS. Never mind that it would result in what Villarreal called "tens of millions of dollars in lawyer fees and decades of court battles."

If you're reading this and think it's a good idea to vote for Ron Saxton because he has the best chance to win in November, read this comment from Villarreal and think again:
If Saxton and Kulongoski were to face each other in the general election this fall, Saxton would face the wrath of at least 311,000 PERS members, plus one family member, plus at least one friend which would be one million people voting against a man who claimed to have a plan but simply didn’t do his homework.
One million people voting against Ron Saxton. In 2002, 1.26 million Oregonians cast votes -- total. How does Ron Saxton have the best shot in November when 80 percent of likely voters will want no part of a Saxton administration?

In his commercials, Ron Saxton likes to say "all the candidates for governor are career politicians, except Republican Ron Saxton." Well, maybe a little time as a politician would help him understand PERS.

UPDATE: This has been updated to reflect Villarreal's column in Oregon Catalyst.


  • At 5/15/2006 2:56 PM, Anonymous Jesse Villarreal, Jr. said…

    FACTS concerning PERS Forum:

    Each candidate was given ample time to answer identical questions.
    Mannix was allowed much more time to answer each question than Atkinson.
    Atkinson worked on several PERS related bills during the last session. In total we worked on eight Senate, House and Priority PERS related bills that were all stopped by Senator Kate Brown and Governor Kulongoski. I received an email from Representative Dennis Richardson on July 28, 2005 that said, “Sorry you got rolled today. It was decided by those in power that it is just too late in the session to take on serious PERS reforms. The Governor made it clear he would veto any additional amendments beyond the one that was adopted today.” This was in response to our last effort for PERS improvements at the end of the session. Kulongoski, Senator Brown and union lobbyists kept at least eighteen legislators that were helping us tied up for months because they wanted SB 1000 passed and wouldn’t let anything move forward without SB 1000 getting passed.
    Each candidate has their PERS reform plan posted on their respective websites.
    Saxton decided not to attend our PERS Forum, but sent as many as four representatives to the forum who said nothing.
    Saxton’s plan after 5 years and $5 million guarantees a loss to Kulongoski. Saxton’s plan to terminate all state employees won’t work.
    Mannix’s plan after 5 years and $3 to 4 million is incomplete and leaves the problems of PERS in place.
    Atkinson’s plan after 7 months and $300,000 is comprehensive, protects members and taxpayers from the legislature, PERS agency, PERS Board and the Oregon Investment Council. It is a plan that will save taxpayers up to $500 million annually while protecting member’s earned benefits.

    The only misrepresentation that was discovered as a result of the PERS Forum was to learn about a candidate’s claim to have a plan to reform PERS, to claim knowledge of a plan and in reality to be caught with neither.


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