Election takeaway: Oregonians reject retirement cuts to teachers, firefighters and public employees

Image: Oregon firefighters protested Knute Buehler’s proposed cuts to their retirements outside the final gubernatorial debate at KGW News on 10/9/18

After spending millions of dollars, Knute Buehler, Phil Knight, and Priority Oregon learned an important lesson: Oregonians stand with teachers, firefighters and other public employees. The bottom line is that candidates who tried to make the election a mandate against the public employee retirement benefits and compensation lost, not just in the race for governor but down the ballot. Now the state legislature has a super-majority of supportive lawmakers.

Opponents spent more than $11 million in TV ads for the governor’s race alone, often demonizing public employees and promising to “reform PERS.”

“Voter saw through those ads and knew that what they were really talking about was balancing the state budget by breaking the promise of a secure retirement for teachers and public employees,” says John Larson, president of the Oregon Education Association. “You don’t improve schools by losing teachers. Oregon’s already dire teacher shortage would have been made worse under Knute Buehler’s plan and we would have seen an immediate exodus of educators.”

Image: An educator holds a sign at a protest outside KGW Studios on 10/9/18

Today, most public employees are in the lowest level of benefits through the sustainable Oregon Public Service Retirement Plan and the average pension is about $2,400 per month. Voters do not want that cut further. The election results affirm September polling of likely voters done by FM3 Opinion Research & Strategy that showed 56% of Oregonians reject cutting retirement benefits to pay the state’s unfunded liability and by a margin of 2-1 they rejected Buehler’s plan to fund education through cutting teacher retirements.

“The lesson for Oregon is clear,” says Melissa Unger, Executive Director of SEIU 503. “Voters want to protect the salaries and benefits of teachers, firefighters and other public employees because they want quality schools, safe communities and quality services. Attacking their benefits is a losing strategy and it’s time to have a real conversation about investments into public services.”