As We Prepare to End the 2013 Legislative Session:
So far, Republican members of the Oregon Legislature have succeeded in obstructing efforts to raise additional revenue to support the things we expect State government to do, including funding our “system of Common schools.” They say they want more “compromise” on the Public Employees Retirement System. But we have already taken from our public employee retirees. When will we see some “compromise” on contributions by somebody else?
The New York Times reports that the median 2012 pay package for 200 chief executives at public companies with at least $1 billion in revenue was $15.1 million, up 16 percent from 2011. Of course those pay packages are structured to minimize tax obligations. Yes, some of those companies are in Oregon. It’s pretty safe to say that none of those individuals are worried about paying their basic bills for food, shelter and health care.
The latest data I found for PERS, for calendar year 2011, showed the average pension paid on retirement to be $2,672/month, about $32,000/year. Sure, there are a few outliers, and in 2003, if you will recall, significant changes were made to PERS to address those issues. We can’t just erase them from the system, retroactively, but in 2011, only 1% of PERS retirees received more than $100,000 in pension benefits, and only 17.6% received more than $50,000.
But if you took the outliers out of the calculation, the average pension of the average retiree would be even lower, and that’s the reality for the majority of PERS retirees. It’s pretty safe to say that a number of PERS retirees are indeed worried about paying their basic bills, for food, shelter and health care. And taking from them is what is meant when the handy shorthand term “reform” is tossed around now.
We have lost our way when it comes to recognizing the value of hard work and the rewards that should come from it, especially work that serves the common good. We use Orwellian euphemisms to describe why we let accumulated advantages drive massive redistribution of wealth and power to a very few.
There is a lot of talk about shared sacrifice, talk about compromise. I get pretty weary of the argument that compromise means that after I move halfway to meet you, you demand that I meet you halfway again, and again. Then I’m accused of holding out over a small difference. This game plan has been used as long as I’ve been paying attention.
Winner-take-all economics and the winner-take-all politics that supports it have made this country, and this state, weaker. We all did better when we all did better, and we are worse off as a people when a few have the tools to gather everything to themselves. Some of the greatest accomplishments this country has ever achieved happened when the difference between the lowest and the highest paid human beings in this country was at a human scale, when those who had much recognized responsibility for the common good, not just entitlement to more and more, and when corporate taxes created an incentive to invest in long term capacity instead of harvesting profits as if there were no tomorrow.
When people who are rich and getting richer and corporations that are rich and getting richer are asked to pay their fair share for things government must do, it’s called “spending other people’s money.” When PERS retirees are asked to live closer to or beyond the margin of survival, it’s called “shared sacrifice.” I think we are now “Through the Looking Glass.”
“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean – nothing more nor less.”
“The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.”
“The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master – that’s all.”
And that’s what this is really about: domination. There is no other explanation for continuing to press to take more from those who have already given, those who have lost economic ground for 30 years or more, while giving a pass to those who have become “takers” to a historic degree.
We passed a PERS bill, a compromise PERS bill, signed by the Governor two months ago, and now we are accused of failing to make a deal on PERS, of missing the opportunity to “DO SOMETHING.” Give me a break.
Tell me who else has some skin in this game. I will gladly vote “aye” on a proposal that represents true shared investment, as those words are understood in plain English, not cynical manipulation. Right now it looks like I’ll still be waiting when the session ends.