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PERS information release should put some misconceptions to rest
Posted On: Nov 22, 2011

Average rank-and-file workers are not the ones receiving big pension payouts

Oregon PERS has made public the names and benefit amounts of its 110,000 members, after a settlement agreement between PERS and

Oregon PERS has made public the names and benefit amounts of its 110,000 members, after a settlement agreement between PERS and the Oregonian and Salem Statesman Journal newspapers was allowed to stand by Marion County Circuit Court Judge Vance Day.


With the release of the names, the initial hullabaloo is over the people at the top. Former Oregon Ducks football coach Mike Bellotti tops the list at almost a half-million dollars a year.


But while AFSCME objected to the release of the information, along with the PERS Coalition and others, having PERS bare its soul to public scrutiny may provide one benefit: killing the common misperception that every PERS member retires with an opulent benefit.


Because the real news in the PERS information release is this: 68 percent of those in the system receive a benefit of $3,000 a month or less — $36,000 annually. And on the PERS website, the agency reports that the average PERS retiree receives less than that — $2,120 per month or $25,436 annually.


"If there is a silver lining to the release of this information, it's that the public will see that average, rank-and-file public employees do not receive an overly generous pension," says longtime Oregon AFSCME PERS lobbyist Mary Botkin. "Not only that, but the vast majority of people actually retired and receiving benefits are Tier 1 employees. The Tier 2 and 3 (OPSRP) people in the system (but yet to retire) will do so under significantly reduced benefits."


All PERS retirees have struggled, said Botkin, to shake a notion dating back to 2001 that everyone who retires receives an overly generous check each month.


 "There was a perfect storm of circumstances early in this century that saw a small window of opportunity for certain workers who had been in the system for 30 years to get out at or near 100 percent," said Botkin. "It happened. But it didn't last long and it wasn't nearly as widespread as the public thinks it was, yet to this day there are people who believe that every PERS member retires at 100 percent of his/her final salary.


"If nothing else, this release of information puts that notion to rest."


PERS is scheduled to release more details on each member's benefit in March — including final salary, years of service, retirement date and the method used to calculate the retirement benefit. The PERS Coalition plans to push the 2012 Oregon Legislature to exempt names from that release.

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