Public employee pension programs could be the next “bubble” to burst, requiring a massive taxpayer bailout, says a new book out this month by a longtime Nevadan and the topic of this week’s column — available online in the opinion section of The Ely Times and in printed editions of a half dozen fine weekly newspapers across the girth of the state.
“Rethinking Public Sector Compensation: What Ever Happened to the Public Interest?” is from Thom Reilly, director of the School of Social Work at San Diego State University. He has lengthy Nevada roots as the former Clark County manager and executive director of the Harrah’s Foundation, the charitable arm of the resort company now know as Caesars Entertainment.
“To no surprise,” Reilly says, “the premise of the book is: Because we have not managed it well, we have created a system that is not only unsustainable but creates serious challenges for service delivery and efficiency, is rife with conflict. Basically, it’s created in the public system an ethically troublesome personnel system.”
In the book, he writes, “Difficulty raising or generating taxes to cover these unfunded liabilities has already surfaced. In states and local jurisdictions, payments to cover these liabilities are crowding out revenues for parks, road repairs, schools, universities, and safety net programs for the poor and elderly.”
One of the problems over the years, says Reilly, has been a lack of transparency.
“At the very least, before compensation or benefit packages are adopted, there should be an independent analysis by an outside group that verifies not only how you pay for it now but, since public pay is deferred, it’s how we’re going to pay for it in the future,” he says.
In fact, he strongly recommends that union negotiations be subject to state open meeting laws and open to the public scrutiny so the voters can see how the negotiations are tending and judge how well their elected officials are minding their interests and wallets.
This dovetails nicely with the recent poll by NPRI and NPA asking legislative candidates and incumbents whether such talks should be open to the public. Only three replied negatively.
Now, will anyone have the nerve to actually introduce a bill draft request and weather the firestorm of wrath from the public worker unions?