Since the recession in 2007, Oregon has asked its public employees to accept lower pay and reduced benefits for our work. Most public employees, including me, have a lower-cost retirement plan called OPSRP instead of the old PERS system. Most of us have moved to a lower-cost healthcare plan. And on average, state employee salaries are 88 percent of comparable private sector salaries.
Total compensation for public employees, including healthcare and retirement, is 98 percent of the market value of our work. That’s a good deal for the state of Oregon. If we used contractors or the private sector to run our schools, fix our roads and protect our state parks, we would have to pay at least market value. We get a better deal now because people like me, who believe in public service, are willing do this important work even though it doesn’t pay a lot. If we reduce compensation, it will get even more difficult than it already is for the state to hire qualified people. In Child Welfare Services, where we are already understaffed and struggling to meet the needs of our state’s most vulnerable children, these cuts will do serious damage.
Yet, when legislators released an 18-point plan to curb costs, 72 percent of the proposals involved cutting public employee compensation. This plan will hamstring the state’s ability to hire skilled employees, making it impossible to run efficient programs. Everyone will suffer if the state becomes the employer of last resort. Here’s another piece of context that legislators are losing sight of: Since the 1970s, the share of income taxes paid by corporations in Oregon has fallen from 18.5 percent to 6.7 percent. That’s a decline of nearly two-thirds. As the Oregonian reported on February 14, businesses pay just 80 cents for every $1 of public benefit they receive from the state, which puts Oregon close the bottom in terms of how much the state asks businesses to contribute to the budget.