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Dispatches from public radio's correspondent at the Oregon Legislature. This is a venue for political and policy coverage of the state government in Salem and its impact on the people of Oregon.

Oregon Supreme Court Hears Public Pension Arguments

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Thomas Patterson
/
Statesman Journal

Oregon's highest court is pondering the fate of cuts to the state's public pension system. Justices heard arguments Tuesday from attorneys for retired public workers and for the state.

Lawmakers passed two bills last year that cut the cost of providing pensions to retired public workers. The move would save state and local governments hundreds of millions of dollars in pension costs every year. The biggest savings come from reducing annual cost of living increases.

But retirees backed by public employee unions sued to overturn the measures. Attorney George Riemer told the Oregon Supreme Court that the bills break contractual obligations made by the state during collective bargaining.

"This was a promise,” he said. “It was made to people who performed service and they expected it and they relied on it over a 40-year period of time."

Attorneys for the state said that the contracts don't bind the state to a certain cost of living increase each year. But if they lose that argument, the cost savings brought about by the measures would be wiped off the books.