Philadelphia-based telecommunications giant Comcast and its customers have turned into the goose that laid the golden egg for the city of Eugene and some other governments.
Two years ago, Comcast paid the city $18.75 million to settle a dispute over a city fee on its high-speed Internet service. The city still has $15.5 million of that in its savings account, and is still charging the monthly fee, which Comcast bills to customers.
Separately, earlier this summer, the city and dozens of other Lane County public agencies were awarded nearly $13.8 million in a settlement over how property taxes have been levied on Comcast since 2009. The city of Eugene is set to receive $3.2 million. Lane County government will receive $1.1 million.
Comcast is rich. Last year it had $22 billion in profits on revenues of $85 billion.
But for cities, these one-time payments present a special opportunity.
These days, one of the best investments a local Oregon agency can make is to pay down its obligations to the state Public Employees Retirement System.
Earlier this year, Oregon lawmakers decided to match at 25 cents for every dollar the money cities, counties and school districts set aside to pay down their PERS liabilities.
Granted, the incentive amounts to state taxpayers helping certain localities that have the wherewithal to make the payments. But if the state offers, why not accept? The offer may not last long once takers start lining up.
PERS's unfunded liability — the shortfall between the system's anticipated revenues from government employers and its anticipated payouts to retirees from those entities — is about $25 billion. Local and state agencies must fund that liability, sooner or later, regardless of the effect on services. Eugene's unfunded liability at latest count was $259 million. Lane County's, $225 million.
Setting aside money for PERS is unlikely to raise cheers from constituents who want more police patrols, teachers, and affordable housing.
But local governments have a unique and perhaps fleeting opportunity to get state help with the PERS burden.