Editorial: Public workers should not be bound by union contracts

In June of 2018 the U.S. Supreme Court in Janus v. American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees ruled 5-4 that it is unconstitutional to require public-sector employees to pay union dues, saying they have a fundamental First Amendment right to not be compelled to support union systems states and local governments adopt.

The court thus overruled a 1997 decision that said public employees who declined to join a union still could be required to pay a fee to cover only the cost of collective bargaining that determined their pay and benefits, but not be required to pay dues that covered other expenses such as political activity.

But Nevada law makes unions the “exclusive bargaining agents” for all the government employees covered by the designated union. While the public employee may now opt out of paying dues, his or her pay and benefits are determined by the union contract.

Until the legislative session earlier this year, only local governments were required to bargain with unions. Senate Bill 135 now gives state public workers the right to unionize. Not a single Republican voted for SB135, only union-backed Democrats. Democratic Gov. Steve Sisolak signed the bill into law even though a study commissioned by the Las Vegas Metro Chamber of Commerce estimated unionization of state workers could in two decades increase costs as much as $1.75 billion a year in inflation-adjusted dollars. The entire current general fund budget amounts to about $4 billion a year.

As Michael Schaus, the communications director of the Nevada Policy Research Institute, points out in a recent article even those public workers who decline to join a union and pay dues are still bound by whatever contract the union negotiates, denying them the freedom to represent themselves.

“Take for example an employee who already has adequate health insurance offered through her spouse’s job,” Schaus writes. “Shouldn’t she be able to ask her government employer for a small increase in pay in exchange for refusing health coverage? Or maybe another worker would rather have a few more vacation days than a scheduled pay raise — should he not have the right, as most workers have in the private sector, to work out a compromise with his employer?”

Schaus notes this leaves the union member feeling shortchanged because the non-dues-paying worker gets the benefit of the negotiated contract, while the non-union members are denied the right to negotiate for their own best interests.

His solution? Workers’ Choice — a policy allowing workers to opt-out of the union entirely and negotiate based upon their own needs and desires.

“Additionally, this monopoly power granted to unions goes even further in damaging the rights of workers to freely associate (or dissociate) with a union,” argues Schaus. “It prohibits the ability for workers to seek out any alternative representation, giving the controlling union virtually no market incentives to increase the value members receive from their dues.”

Nevada lawmakers could easily rectify this problem by excising the language in the law giving government unions “exclusive” bargaining rights.

A version of this editorial appeared this week in some of the Battle Born Media newspapers — The Ely Times, the Mesquite Local News, the Mineral County Independent-News, the Eureka Sentinel,  Sparks Tribune and the Lincoln County Record.

Editorial: Government retiree costs must be reined in

The PERS cost creep continues.

According to TransparentNevada, a website maintained by the Nevada Policy Research Institute, the number of former Nevada government employees drawing pensions in excess of $100,000 a year from the Nevada Public Employees’ Retirement System now exceeds 2,150. In 2013, when pension data were first made available the number was 1,000.

To pay for these lucrative pensions, starting in July the regular PERS members — teachers and other government workers — saw the amount of each paycheck that must be paid into the pension account increase from 28 percent to 29.25 percent. Half of that amount comes from the worker and half from the taxpayers. It is all taxpayer money to begin with.

Police and firefighters, who tend to have shorter careers, now must chip in 42.5 percent of their salaries, up from 40.5 percent. Again, half from the employer.

Despite these increases in contributions, PERS still will have a huge unfunded liability — more than $40 billion if you use generally accepted accounting principles.

According to Robert Fellner, NPRI’s policy director, all of the contribution hikes that have occurred over the past decade have gone towards paying down PERS’ debt rather than covering the pension checks for future retirees. “The debt component is now so large that 45 percent of what Nevada teachers will pay to PERS next year will go towards funding other people’s retirement, rather than their own, future benefit,” Fellner wrote earlier this year.

Fellner calculates the cost of funding other people’s retirement checks will cost the average teacher $7,680 this year.

Efforts to reform PERS over the years have gone nowhere. Perhaps because lawmakers themselves are members of the PERS racket.

The Nevada government worker retirement system, unlike anything found in the private sector, is based on a defined-benefit plan, meaning pensions are calculated as a percentage of the highest pay the worker receives at the end of his or her career times the number of years worked.

PERS benefits have ratcheted up over the decades by virtue of incremental benefit increases, collective bargaining gains, earlier retirement age, allowing the purchase of years of service, padding base pay with add-ons such as callback, standby, holiday, shift differential, extra duty, hazard and longevity pay, and simple compound interest.

According to the American Enterprise Institute, the average Nevada public employee pension is $64,000 a year or $1.3 million in average lifetime benefits, the highest in the nation. Meanwhile, the average Social Security annual benefit is $16,000.

It is long past time that the state change this ever more costly pension program from the defined-benefit plan to a defined-contribution plan, similar to the 401(k) plans used by corporations. The worker and the employer each contribute a set amount of the salary and the money is invested until the worker cashes out.

A bill to do this was introduced in the 2013 legislative session. Though it would have applied to future retirees only, the bill garnered no discussion and no vote was ever taken. It died without a whimper.

A version of this editorial appeared this week in some of the Battle Born Media newspapers — The Ely Times, the Mesquite Local News, the Mineral County Independent-News, the Eureka Sentinel,  Sparks Tribune and the Lincoln County Record.

Newspaper column: NPRI issues report card on 2019 Legislture

The conservative/libertarian Nevada Policy Research Institute (NPRI) recently published its biennial report card on our state’s legislative session, but, rather than just rate lawmakers on how they voted, this year the report card also delves into issues and lawmaker actions on bills that never even came up for a vote.

For example, the report looks into how and why Assembly Bill 420 — which sought to eliminate in Nevada the practice of civil asset forfeiture by police agencies, often without any criminal conviction of any crime — was buried without even coming up for a vote in the Senate Judiciary Committee. For years Nevada law enforcement agencies have seized cash, cars and homes suspected of being used in the commission of a crime, such as drug dealing. The agencies then kept the proceeds to spend as part of their budget — a practice the Institute for Justice has dubbed “policing for profit.”

An NPRI representative testified in support of AB420 in March, saying the reform would constitute a major victory for due-process and the rights of property owners. The Assembly then passed the bill by a 34-6 margin, drawing broad bipartisan support.

But like a similar bill in the previous session, the reform effort died in the Senate Judiciary Committee, where two of the committee members are Clark County prosecutors, whose budgets benefit from the seizures — Democrats Nicole Cannizzaro and Melanie Scheible.

“As we write this 2019 Report Card, this episode again reminds us of the swampiness and incestuous nature which characterizes Nevada politics,” the report card states. “Unless the state’s constitutional prohibition on dual servants is finally enforced, Nevadans should expect to see plenty more examples of lawmakers putting the concerns of their government employers over those of the very citizens they claim to represent.”

You see, the Nevada Constitution explicitly prohibits the employees of one branch of government from serving as a lawmaker, too. Article 3, Section 1,  reads: “The powers of the Government of the State of Nevada shall be divided into three separate departments, — the Legislative, — the Executive and the Judicial; and no persons charged with the exercise of powers properly belonging to one of these departments shall exercise any functions, appertaining to either of the others, except in the cases expressly directed or permitted in this constitution.”

The provision has been blatantly ignored for years.

The NPRI report card singled out Cannizzaro as the anti-criminal justice reform lawmaker of 2019. Democratic Assemblyman Steve Yeager, a former Clark County public defender who was the architect of AB420, was tagged the pro-criminal justice reform lawmaker of 2019.

The report also addressed a failed effort to increase government transparency — Senate Bill 287 that would have put some teeth into enforcement of the 1911 Nevada Public Records Act by imposing fines on agencies and government employees who wrongly and in bad faith violate the law by withholding public records — and a successful effort in Senate 224 to deny the public access to pertinent information about government pensioners.

SB287 was backed by a coalition dubbed Right to Know Nevada — which included NPRI, the ACLU, the Nevada Press Association, several newspapers and journalists — but it met huge opposition from government lobbyists. In the end the bill was greatly watered down. No government worker would be subjected to a fine and the maximum fine an agency would have to pay was cut from $250,000 to $1,000.

SB224, sponsored by Democratic Sen. Julia Ratti of Sparks, sought to make the names of those receiving taxpayer-funded government pensions secret. Faced with the fact that Democratic Gov. Steve Sisolak has long supported government transparency, the bill eventually was changed to allow the release of the names of pensioners and the amounts paid, but key contextual data was made secret — the retiree’s last employer, years of service credit, retirement date and whether the benefit is a disability or service retirement. The governor signed it into law.

For their efforts NPRI named four state senators pro-transparency lawmakers of 2019 — Democrats David Parks and Melanie Scheible and Republicans Ben Kieckhefer and Ira Hansen. Anti-transparency lawmakers were Ratti and Republican Assemblyman Glen Leavitt.

The report also delves into the issues of collective bargaining for public employees, education and various tax bills. The 48-page report card is posted online at https://www.npri.org/studies/2019-legislative-report-card/

As for how the lawmakers voted, NPRI rated Republican Assemblyman John Ellison of Elko No. 1 with a 92.55 percent score. No Democrat garnered a rating of better than 36 percent.

A version of this column appeared this week in many of the Battle Born Media newspapers — The Ely Times, the Mesquite Local News, the Mineral County Independent-News, the Eureka Sentinel and the Lincoln County Record — and the Elko Daily Free Press.

 

Nevada lawmakers mandate renewable energy even if we choke on the cost

Gov. Steve Sisolak signs legislation requiring electricity companies to get half of their energy from renewable sources by 2030. (AP pix via Elko Daily Free Press)

Gov. Steve Sisolak signs legislation requiring electricity companies to get half of their energy from renewable sources by 2030. (AP pix via Elko Daily Free Press)

Earth Day in Nevada, where never is heard a discouraging word.

On Monday Gov. Steve Sisolak signed a bill that will require 50 percent of Nevada’s electricity to be generated by renewable sources — such as wind, solar and geothermal — by 2030. The bill passed both the Senate and Assembly unanimously. The current renewable portfolio standard (RPS) is 25 percent by 2025.

No one deigned to mention and apparently no one bothered to ask just what this requirement will cost Nevada ratepayers. Clean air at any price, right?

A study released Monday by the Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago report found RPS programs significantly increase average retail electricity prices, with prices increasing 17 percent 12 years after passage.

As for cleaning the air, the study found that RPS programs did indeed reduce carbon emissions, but at a high cost.  The study found the cost to be more than $130 per metric ton of carbon-dioxide and as much as $460 per metric ton. “This is several times higher than conventional estimates of the benefits of reducing a metric ton, or the social cost of carbon (SCC),” the report said. “The Obama Administration’s central estimate of the SCC is roughly $50 per ton in today’s dollars.”

That’s like killing a gnat with an anvil.

Did anyone bother to read a 2013 study by the Beacon Hill Institute at Suffolk University, which was commissioned by the Nevada Policy Research Institute?

Beacon Hill estimated the current RPS could cost Nevada between 590 and 3,070 jobs by 2025. This is because power bills would increase from somewhere around 2 percent to nearly 11 percent due to the RPS. While the residential power user’s bill might increase anywhere between $20 and $130 a year, an industrial ratepayer could expect power bills to increase from nearly $7,000 to more than $47,000 a year — that’s higher than the average salary in Nevada.

“One could justify the higher electricity costs if the environmental benefits — in terms of reduced greenhouse gases (GHGs) and other emissions — outweighed the costs,” Beacon Hill reported. “However, it is unclear that the use of renewable energy resources — especially wind and solar — significantly reduces GHG emissions. Due to their intermittency, wind and solar require significant conventional backup power sources that are cycled up and down to accommodate the variability in the production of wind and solar power. A 2010 study found that wind power actually increases pollution and greenhouse gas emissions.

“Thus, there appear to be few, if any, benefits to implementing RPS policies based on heavy uses of wind.”

The bottom line, according to the analysis, is higher power costs will make Nevada less competitive and drive away potential job creating businesses without doing anything whatsoever to reduce global emissions.

NV Energy produces the majority of power in Nevada and its president and CEO, Doug Cannon, was on hand at the bill signing to say, “We announced our support of the renewable standard increase in 2018 and are honored to have worked closely with Governor Sisolak, Senator Chris Brooks, who was instrumental in leading this effort; and other stakeholders to accomplish this so early in the legislative session.”

A futile gesture.

 

 

 

 

Editorial: Local government unions create huge pay gap

It is good to be a public servant in Nevada, downright lucrative in fact.

The folks at the Nevada Policy Research Institute have crunched the Census data for 2017 and found the median earnings for local government workers in Nevada were 46 percent higher than for those in the private sector — $58,644 for local government workers per year, compared to $40,259 in the private sector. That 46 percent gap is the highest of any state in the nation.

Hawaii and California had the second and third highest gaps.

Nevada local government workers had the fifth highest wages in the country, while private-sector workers came in at a distant 47th.

NPRI is quick to point out that much of the pay disparity is due to differences in experience, education and other factors, but that does not negate the fact the Nevada gap is the highest in the nation. Also, NPRI notes that when Nevada’s local government workers health and retirement benefits and more generous paid leave are factored in the gap with the private sector widens to 57 percent.

For example, both state and local public workers contribute to the Nevada Public Employees’ Retirement System. Currently 28 percent of a worker’s salary is contributed to cover the cost of pensions — half from the taxpayers and half from the employee. The figure for police and fire employees is 40 percent to account for often shorter working careers. But many local government unions have collectively bargained to have the taxpayers pick up all of the PERS contributions, effectively adding a hidden cost not seen in salaries alone.

“On a statewide basis, government pay and benefits cost taxpayers roughly $10 billion last year — which was equal to 80 percent of all tax revenue collected by every state and local government agency in Nevada,” notes NPRI policy director Robert Fellner. “Thus, in the event Nevada’s government pay gap continues its upward growth, the resulting tax hikes necessary to sustain such excess may become too great to bear.”

Fellner argues, “Because such outsized pay packages come at the expense of taxpayers who earn much less themselves, elected officials should consider the fairness and sustainability of continually caving in to government unions’ endless demands for even more.”

Unlike state government employees, local government workers in Nevada are largely covered by union contracts. State government workers generally are paid more than those in the private sector, but less than local government employees.

In past legislative sessions, lawmakers have attempted to allow state government workers to unionize, though they should instead take away the right of local government workers to unionize. The unions hold too strong a sway over local elected officials who must bargain with the unions over wages.

None other than the icon of progressivism, Franklin D. Roosevelt, said in a 1937 letter:  “All Government employees should realize that the process of collective bargaining, as usually understood, cannot be transplanted into the public service. It has its distinct and insurmountable limitations when applied to public personnel management.”

He went on to add, “The very nature and purposes of Government make it impossible for administrative officials to represent fully or to bind the employer in mutual discussions with Government employee organizations. The employer is the whole people …”

Who is the servant and who is the boss?

A version of this editorial appeared this week in some of the Battle Born Media newspapers — The Ely Times, the Mesquite Local News, the Mineral County Independent-News, the Eureka Sentinel,  Sparks Tribune and the Lincoln County Record.

Newspaper column: This big piggy goes oink, oink, oink

The libertarian-leaning Nevada Policy Research Institute has published this year’s edition of its popular “The Nevada Piggy Book” — a collection of anecdotes illustrating the tendencies of state and local governments to lavishly overspend our money on inefficient and even counterproductive endeavors.

The introduction reaches the dismal conclusion that waste is endemic to government. While you and I watch our spending closely, not so with bureaucracies. “In fact, when agencies blow through their budgets, odds actually increase that politicians, in years to follow, will award them ever larger sums of tax dollars!” NPRI relates.

Take for example the decision by the Nevada Department of Transportation to award a bid of $529,000 to construct federally-approved fencing along a 37-mile stretch of U.S. 95 north of Las Vegas to keep endangered Mojave Desert Tortoises from crossing the highway and too frequently meeting their demise beneath the wheels of speeding vehicles.

But when the project was completed the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service determined the fencing failed to meet federal standards — which called for the tortoise fencing to be at least two feet above the ground and one foot below. Some sections of the fence were no more than 8 inches above the ground and as little as 4 inches deep.

The 28-page Piggy Book reported, “Nevada taxpayers alone were forced to cover the $736,000 required to remove the existing, inadequate fencing and replace it with new fencing in line with federal regulations.”

But that’s just the beginning of this tale of waste and woe. NPRI relates that a 2017 study by researchers at the University of California, Davis said that “tortoises that haven’t adjusted to the fencing pace along them, and sometimes overheat and die.” So much for saving tortoises from becoming roadkill.

Fencing wasn’t the only problem.

It turns out, according to the Piggy Book, that a series of culverts under the highway — intended to be tortoise passages and costing $320,000 — had faulty drainage that resulted in, you guessed it, more tortoise deaths.

“Like the tortoise fencing, these culverts will also need to be reengineered and replaced,” NPRI recounts. “As of this writing, it is unclear how much all these repairs will cost, but it seems likely that state — not federal — taxpayers will be responsible for paying the bill.”

Then there is the issue of the state shelling out overtime to unionized prison correctional officers. It turns out overtime is not calculated the same way in government as in the private sector where one must work more than 40 hours to earn overtime pay.

For some government workers overtime is calculated using time “paid” instead of time worked. Paid leave — such as vacation or sick days — count toward overtime eligibility. “In other words, even if an employee took vacation time for Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, they would still be eligible to receive overtime if they ended up working Thursday, Friday and Saturday,” NPRI explains.

For example, corrections officer Jimmy Jones received $117,551 in overtime pay on top of his $56,720 salary in one year, while corrections officer Stewart Boyer was paid $74,560 in overtime on top of his $33,496 base salary.

“In total, 19 state correctional officers received OT pay that exceeded their base salary, while 135 received OT pay that was at least 50 percent of their regular salary,” NPRI’s analysis found.

That’s just two examples.

“The examples in this book might be merely the tip of a government-spending iceberg in Nevada — but they are powerful reminders of how important it is for the public to see what, exactly, government is doing with all those never-ending tax increases,” the Piggy Book concludes. “Many of the very same government agencies that are routinely found to be wasting tax dollars also go to great lengths to keep the public in the dark when it comes to spending.”

NPRI describes itself as a non-partisan, free-market think tank that promotes public-policy ideas consistent with the principles of free enterprise, individual liberty and limited, accountable and constitutional government. If only the people we elect to represent us in Carson City and our local governing bodies would pay attention, we might have a little less waste and get to keep more of our money.

The Nevada Piggy Book can be found online at: https://www.npri.org.

A version of this column appeared this week in many of the Battle Born Media newspapers — The Ely Times, the Mesquite Local News, the Mineral County Independent-News, the Eureka Sentinel and the Lincoln County Record — and the Elko Daily Free Press.

Editorial: Nevada should impose work requirement for Medicaid enrollees

Even though Congress could not find a way to repeal the budget-busting, economy-distorting Affordable Care Act, affectionately known as ObamaCare, there are still a few things the states can do to ameliorate its impact.

Chief among these, according to a report prepared for the Nevada Policy Research Institute and the Washington Policy Center by Dr. Roger Stark, is to implement work requirements for able-bodied Medicaid enrollees. The Trump administration announced recently that it is willing to accept waiver requests — known as 1115A waivers — from states that wish to impose a work requirement.

“Applying for a waiver to implement work requirements is a common-sense reform, and it’s one that’s already supported by the administration,” says NPRI policy analyst Daniel Honchariw. “Medicaid should help its able-bodied members who are willing to work, rather than encouraging an unsustainable and demoralizing cycle of dependency.”

Honchariw notes that 60 percent of the Nevadans who gained free Medicaid coverage under ObamaCare’s expansion of the program — approved by Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval, by the way — did not earn a penny of income in all of 2015. Expanded Medicaid now covers 600,000 Nevadans at annual cost of about $5,700 each.

“Such costs are unsustainable over the long-run without dramatic tax increases,” Honchariw states.

According to Dr. Stark, ObamaCare has resulted in only 20 million of the 50 million uninsured people before the law was passed — without a single Republican vote, by the way — to gain health insurance coverage. A large portion of those were handed Medicaid. In Washington state, 80 percent of the newly insured were placed on Medicaid.

“Obamacare has raised insurance premiums for virtually everyone in the country outside of the free Medicaid entitlement. Health care spending was 17 percent of the economy when the ACA became law,” Stark writes. “By 2021, with the ACA in place, estimates show that the country will spend 21 percent of the annual economy on health care.”

He said this past year the cost of Medicaid was $545 billion nationally and is projected to grow to $700 billion by 2020.

Studies have found that the health outcomes for people covered by Medicaid are no better than the uninsured.

We encourage Nevada’s lawmakers to take advantage of the work-requirement waiver and other options to curb the cost to taxpayers and break the cycle of dependency such entitlements foster. —TM

 A version of this editorial appeared this week in some of the Battle Born Media newspapers — The Ely Times, the Mesquite Local News, the Mineral County Independent-News, the Eureka Sentinel,  Sparks Tribune and the Lincoln County Record.