SALEM, Ore. (KOIN) — Oregon lawmakers began their 2017 session Wednesday, ready to face a number of issues including a deficit of nearly $2 billion.
Lawmakers’ first order of business Wednesday was looking at ways to come up with the billions of dollars needed to fund the Public Employee and Retirement System as required by law.
The legislature is considering everything from raising taxes to cutting budgets, including education and social services, to come up with the money.
Today 120,000 people are getting PERS benefits.
“Oregon is in crisis unless PERS is fixed,” Sen. Tim Knopp said.
One big reason PERS is in the hole is because the return on invested money set aside for the program hasn’t been great, and that return is supposed to provide most of PERS’ funding. Lawmakers’ hands are reportedly tied by court rulings that have turned down earlier attempts to reduce what is paid out.
Now lawmakers have to determine how to keep PERS funded while making sure they don’t take away millions of dollars from other important state needs.
Oregon Senate Republicans said part of the priorities package includes putting education first and bringing sustainability to PERS. Ted Ferrioli released a statement saying the pension system is broken and they must restore accountability and transparency. The statement went on to say:“The Democrats have failed to adequately fund education and our state is hurting our kids. Until education and our children are our highest, primary priority we cannot in good conscience make other budget decisions. This upcoming session presents tremendous opportunity to collaborate, engage and lead. We are ready.”
Other items on the agenda include taxes on alcohol and tobacco, hospitals and insurers and trying to find millions of dollars for some kind of transportation package.
One of the transportation proposals is to add an extra lane onto Hwy 217 and I-5.
Lawmakers must balance the state budget by July.