Abuse of Power: Gov. Kate Brown’s PERS Payoff

Kate Brown

Why is Gov. Kate Brown laughing?

Co-conspirators Gov. Kate Brown (D), Sen. Richard Devlin (D-Tualatin) and Sen. Ted Ferrioli (R-John Day) have concocted a bipartisan scheme to enrich the legislators and fleece the Public Employees Retirement System (PERS).

This while a task force appointed by Gov. Brown has been trying to determine the best ways to slash the the crushing PERS debt by $5 billion. The task Force’s report is expected to be submitted on Nov. 1. The PERS Board has predicted that if solutions aren’t found, PERS costs could rise from 17 percent of state and local government annual payrolls to 34 percent in 2021. That would be likely to force worker layoffs.

And you thought Oregon was a corruption-free state.

On Oct. 23, Brown nominated Devlin and Ferrioli to the Northwest Power & Conservation Council, a federally funded panel that provides policy and planning leadership on regional power, fish and wildlife issues. The Senate Rules Committee is scheduled to consider the nominations on Nov. 13.

Neither legislator will bring any expertise in regional power, fish and wildlife issues to the Council. Devlin, 65, is a retired corrections officer and private investigator. Ferrioli, 66, is a retired public relations executive.

But their lack of expertise is not the most egregious issue. It’s their exploitation of the public purse.

First, the council positions come with a $120,000 annual salary, substantially more than Devlin and Ferrioli have been making from their legislative salaries.

Second, as The Oregonian’s Ted Sickinger reported this past week, both men will be raiding PERS for big payouts.

The jobs “…will allow both legislators to double dip, turbocharge their public pensions, or both,” Sickinger reported.

This is how Sickinger put it:

“Ferrioli already draws a $33,083 annual pension from the Public Employees Retirement System. That benefit stems from 6½ years working for the Oregon Department of Veterans Affairs in the late ’70s and early ’80s…And because he is already at retirement age, he is allowed to double dip, continuing to collect it while working full time at the council.

Meanwhile, Ferrioli is eligible for a separate pension for his 20 years of legislative service. And if his Senate colleagues confirm him to the new position, that pension will be calculated using his new higher salary and the extra years of service he earns at the power council, according to PERS.

It’s unclear how much service credit Ferrioli earned during his years at the Legislature, given the part-time work. But assuming he sticks with the job for the first three-year term, the new salary could quintuple his legislative pension, which could translate to hundreds of thousands of dollars in extra benefits over the course of his retirement (emphasis mine). And he could start drawing that while continuing to work at the council.

Devlin, too, could see a similar multiplier in his legislative pension if confirmed. He, too, has 20 years of legislative service and is eligible to start drawing his pension. But if he holds off, the new salary and service at the power council would balloon those benefits after three years.”

This brazen attempt to exploit PERS, which Brown, Devlin and Ferrioli know is already in deep trouble, needs to be cut off at the pass.

If they want to maintain their reputations as public servants, Devlin and Ferrioli should either decline the Council appointments or they should refuse any additional PERS benefits that may arise because of them.

Gov. Brown needs to stop taking Oregonians for rubes. It’s time to put a stop to this abuse of the system.