The political theater that
is Senate Bill 822 moved to the full Senate floor April 11. SB 822 is the
so-called PERS reform bill offered up by Joint Ways and Means Co-Chairs Sen. Richard
Devlin (D-Tualatin) and Rep. Peter Buckley (D-Ashland). The two big negative
factors are a change in retirees' cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) calculations
and elimination of the out-of-state tax payment offset.
Members of Oregon's upper
chamber spent over an hour debating the bill. As Sen. Tim Knopp (R-Bend)
correctly noted during his remarks, "This is going to be a party line vote."
Which was true, but that didn't stop most senators from rising to get their
comments on the record for constituents at home.
The conundrum is that AFSCME
and the entire PERS Coalition unanimously opposed SB 822. When the words
finally ended, the vote was 16-13 in favor. All 16 Senate Democrats voted for
the bill. The 13 Republican senators present voted no. Sen. Larry George
(R-Hillsboro) was home ill but certainly would have been against the bill. So
technically the Democrats voted "wrong" and the Republicans voted "right"
— but it's not anywhere near that simple.
"There wasn't a single
Republican senator that voted 'No' because they supported us," says longtime
AFSCME PERS lobbyist Mary Botkin. "They all voiced opposition to SB 822 because
in their view, it didn't go far enough. Devlin and Buckley have pledged this
will be the only 'PERS reform' bill to move this session, so the Republicans
are opposed because they want to do us more harm."
Botkin did note that the
floor debate was "respectful and civil." Again, every senator on the floor and
most observers in the Senate gallery knew exactly what the final vote count
would be. The measure now moves on to the House, where it is expected to have
enough muster to get to the House floor as well. That's where things could get
"I don't think we'll see a
party line vote in the House," says Botkin. "There will be Democrats that
oppose the bill for the 'right' reasons. There will be Republicans that oppose
the bill as did their Senate counterparts — they want more reforms. But
there will also be House Republicans that are with us and will vote 'No' for
the right reasons. So that is going to be a very interesting day."
The vote counts will also
cause havoc when AFSCME tallies its end-of-session report card. Essentially,
all 29 senators voted against the unions today, even though the floor letter
from the PERS Coalition asked for a "No" vote and that's how the GOP members
voted. Then there is the impending House vote that likely will include
Republicans voting "No" for entirely different reasons.
"We're going to have to be a
little creative when we reach the vote count stage," says Council 75 Political
Director Joe Baessler. "We'll know why people voted the way they did. We'll
figure it out."
In the meantime, before
Devlin and Buckley debuted SB 822, 59 other PERS-related measures had been
dropped, and a handful of others have been introduced since then. Will those
60-plus bills all die a quiet death?
"That's what Devlin and
Buckley intend," said Botkin. "That's their selling point to us, even though we
disagree — that SB 822 will be the PERS bill this session. We still believe the COLA change, in
particular, is unconstitutional, so we'll cross that bridge when we come to
Indeed, PERS Coalition
attorney Greg Hartman says his staff is already busy on preliminary research to
challenge SB 822 should it pass the House and gain the governor's signature.
"We're not unaware of what's
playing out in Salem," says Hartman. "We'll be ready if need be."