The Bend Bulletin
The idea may sound good: Public employee pay and benefits shouldn’t be greater than those for similar private-sector jobs. That’s the theory driving sponsors of a state constitutional amendment being proposed for the 2020 general election ballot. It’s a bad idea.
Chief sponsors of the measure are Kim Sordyl, an ex-officio member of the state Board of Education, and Eric Hetfield, executive director of the conservative business group Priority Oregon. The measure would require that compensation — wages and benefits — for all public employees in the state be comparable to those for similar private-sector jobs. If there were no comparable private-sector jobs, comparisons would be made to similar jobs in other states.
That sounds straightforward, but it isn’t.
Even where job skills are similar, such things as education and work requirements might not be. A public-school teacher, for example, is more likely to have a master’s degree than a private-school counterpart. The public teacher is paid more, on average, and has better benefits, as well. On the other hand, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, the private-school teacher is likely to have noticeably fewer students to deal with.
Differences can be found across the board, but in some cases, it’s the benefits paid public employees in Oregon and elsewhere that really make the difference. Oregon’s Public Employees Retirement System is particularly generous to those who’ve worked for the state the longest; as time passes, however, those hired more recently will have leaner retirement packages.
It’s tempting to assume that two people doing the same sort of work should earn the same pay and, perhaps, benefits. That’s true, all else being equal.
The problem is, all else is seldom equal. In the end, while the idea of equity sounds good, accomplishing it is far from a sure thing.