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Oregon’s Animal Farm

Steve BucksteinQuickPoint!

The legislature and governor have signed off on reforms to Oregon’s extravagent Public Employees Retirement System (PERS). The next chapter in this saga is whether legislators will stay in the very system they created and are now trying to rein in.

Under PERS our legislators are treated the same as police officers and firefighters for retirement purposes. The latter receive better retirement benefits because they risk their lives doing their jobs, and their careers are sometimes cut short by injuries. Being a legislator is not a hazardous occupation. The only real occupational risks legislators face are angry phone calls and being defeated at the polls.

This special status for legislators conjures up visions of George Orwell’s classic Animal Farm. As the pigs led other animals in revolt against the farm’s human owner, they wrote seven commandments on a wall. The last commandment proclaimed, “All animals are equal.”

By the end of the book, politics had taken its course, and the pigs in power had replaced the seven commandments with just one: “All animals are equal but some animals are more equal than others.”

Legislators shouldn’t be “more equal than others.” In fact, their conflict of interest demands that they remove themselves from PERS. Rep. Tim Knopp nailed it on the head when he said, the right thing to do would be “to take legislators out of PERS, to cut our pensions and lead by example.”

Steve Buckstein is senior policy analyst at Cascade Policy Institute, a Portland, Oregon based think tank.

© 2006, Cascade Policy Institute. All rights reserved. Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided the author and Cascade Policy Institute are cited. Contact Cascade at (503) 242-0900 to arrange print or broadcast interviews on this topic. For more topics visit the QuickPoint! archive.

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