Friday, December 19, 2014

The Oregon Legislature approved a series of bills on pensions and taxes, then adjourned its special session after three days of work.

The approval of five bills on Wednesday caps a year-long effort by Gov. John Kitzhaber to stem the growing costs of public-employee pensions.

Lawmakers voted to lower the annual inflation increases to pension checks for retired government workers. They also voted to raise taxes on some individuals and businesses while lowering them for others, to increase tobacco taxes and to prohibit cities and counties from banning genetically modified crops.

Proponents say the changes will free up money for schools to reduce class sizes or lengthen school years. Critics say there were better ways the Legislature to achieve that goal.

The Legislature's passage of a package of bills on revenue and reform of the Public Employees Retirement System will benefit Oregon's children and public school system for
years, said Betsy Miller-Jones, executive director of the Oregon School Boards Association.

Miller-Jones said the package allows districts an important opportunity to rehire teachers and restore lost school days.

"This is a huge win for our children and our schools," she said. "Oregon's public schools have been steadily losing ground, in the form of larger class sizes and shorter school calendars, over the last decade.

"Our members have sent us a clear message that PERS reform is a main priority in lowering their costs and putting our state's schools back on course."

Miller-Jones praised Gov. Kitzhaber and legislative leaders of both parties for finding a solution in the special session.

"This compromise took courage and patience on all sides," she said. "This was an Oregon solution that remains fair to public employees but restores a balance that we can sustain as a state."

Miller-Jones said OSBA's legal advisors believe the package will survive an expected legal challenge from employee unions.

OSBA is a member services agency for more than 200 locally elected boards serving school districts, education service districts and community colleges. It also provides services to charter schools and their boards.

OSBA has joined with business and parent/student groups to support PERS reform. The coalition's website can be found at www.fixpersnow.org

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