Monday, March 11, 2013

Oregonian Scolds Clackamas County for Following Oregonian's PERS Policy

For the Oregonian all public promises are equal but some are more equal than others.

In an editorial yesterday, the Oregonian urged Clackamas County Commissioners to carry through on $20 million to fund plans already made with TriMet for light rail lines even though voters clearly said (60% to 40%) last September that they wanted no funding to go to rail projects without voter approval.

The Oregonian editors explain:
The public debate immediately centered on whether Measure 3-401 applied retroactively to, say, a MAX line heading into Milwaukie. It flared further when John Ludlow and Tootie Smith in November won positions on the county commission having waged anti-rail campaigns.
But, the editors think the voters' decision to spend no more money without specific voter approval should apply not to future money spent, but to future plans made because the $20 million is "a done deal".
Measure 3-401, in our view, can only apply to projects going forward, and even then it may prove problematic on federal lines that could cross Clackamas County, such as high-speed rail between Seattle and Eugene. For now, however, Clackamas County taxpayers should not have to bear the frivolous legal costs of their commissioners duking it out with TriMet over a done deal.
Compare this to the Oregonian editors ongoing pleas for the Oregon State legislature to "reform" promises made to PERS recipients. For some reason PERS promises and plans are not "a done deal" so they can be reformed. But Clackamas County plans with TriMet are set in cement and therefore cannot be reformed.

In the most recent of a series of editorials urging changes in PERS funding the editors suggest "thorough" reforms even though they will certainly meet stiff legal challenges.
Devlin and Buckley use the play-it-safe argument to justify their watered-down reform effort, and they may be right. The reforms they seek may, indeed, have a better chance of surviving the inevitable court challenge than some elements of the OSBA package. At this point, however, it's all guess work. Nobody knows what the Supreme Court will condone and what it will nix. So why not be thorough
Compare that to Oregonian handwringing over "frivolous legal costs" to taxpayers if Clackamas County doesn't pony up the $20 million to TriMet.

Apparently legal costs are only frivolous if the editors decide they are. Light rail legal costs are bad. PERS legal costs are good. So Clackamas commissioners should try to avoid legal costs and state legislators should not worry at all about legal costs. Go figure.


MAX Redline said...

Good post, here, with some excellent points. I note, however, that PERS reform is going to be somewhat difficult to achieve not due to the contractural issues that "bind" Clackamas County to TriMet, but due to the fact that virtually all Oregon legislators are in PERS, as is the governor and all of the state judges.

T. D. said...

Max, the self-interest of the rulemakers will undoubtedly play an important role limiting "reform".

But, the Oregonian says nothing about that. Nor does the Oregonian blame previous public officials and administrators for overspending and overpromising. Government largesse is not a problem for them. That's why the editors do not understand that current Clackamas County commissioners do not want to spend on this project without specific voter approval.

MAX Redline said...

And therein lies an interesting issue: The Zero and TriMet take the position that because the CC Commissioners rushed into action ahead of an impending vote that they knew would run against them, the vote is invalid and can only apply to any future expansions. Lawyers are going to be having a field day - and a well-compensated one, at that.

T. D. said...

Doesn't the Oregonian see the legal implications of this on the PERS legal issue? Or, maybe that's why the editors don't want to see it adjudicated.

And, the editors fail to note that TriMet is the one who threw down the legal gauntlet and started the legal fee gusher. Its taxpayers are on the hook too for what could be a "frivolous" law suit.

The Oregonian admits they don't have a clue on PERS reforms legal ruling, but here they assume they know for a fact what the ruling will be.