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.

Nevada high court strengthens access to public records

In a narrow 4-3 decision Thursday the Nevada Supreme Court strengthened the public’s access to records held by government agencies, ruling that the Public Employees’ Retirement System must provide the names and pension amounts of retired public workers.

In 2013 the court ruled that PERS had to provide those records to the Reno Gazette-Journal and it did so, but the following year PERS altered its record keeping process so that names were deleted from the pension data and each record was linked only to confidential Social Security numbers. When the Nevada Policy Research Institute sought the same records in 2014 as was given to the newspaper in 2013, it was denied. PERS cited the court ruling that said it did not have to “create” a record on request.

The majority opinion was penned by Chief Justice Michael Douglas and joined by Justices Michael Cherry, Mark Gibbons and Kristina Pickering. The dissent was penned by Justice Lidia Stiglich and joined by Justices Ron Parraguirre and James Hardesty. Stiglich, who was appointed in 2016, is up for re-election on the November ballot and faces conservative District Court Judge Mathew Harter.

The majority notes that PERS’ contention would contravene the very purpose of the public records law, which is to allow the public to keep an eye on how its government officials behave and spend their money.

The opinion cited a court ruling that found “sorting a pre-existing database of information to make information intelligible does not involve the creation of a new record because … computer records found in a database rather than a file cabinet may require the application of codes or some form of programming to retrieve the information. Sorting a database by a particular data field (e.g., date, category, title) is essentially the application of codes or some form of programming, and thus does not involve creating new records or conducting research — it is just another form of searching that is within the scope of an agency’s duties …”

The majority also cited its own decision in a case called Blackjack Bonding that found “when an agency has a computer program that can readily compile the requested information, the agency is not excused from its duty to produce and disclose that information.”

In a footnote, the majority countered the contention of the dissent, saying, “The dissent argues that the creation of a computer program is not merely drawing information from a database, but rather, improperly requires the agency to conduct research. However, its reasoning ignores the realities of information storage in the digital age. As specifically recognized by the (the aforementioned court ruling), “computer records found in a database rather than a file cabinet may require the application of codes or some form of programming to retrieve the information.”

Another footnote said the majority was not overruling its previous decision about an agency not having to create a record, but clarifying the earlier holding to reflect the realities of the advancements in technology and to further the purpose underlying the public records law.

The court remanded the case to the lower court to determine precisely how the NPRI records request would be handled and what, if any, expenses the agency could charge for the production of the records.

NPRI’s Director Robert Fellner said in a press release about the case: “PERS argued that public records should be defined narrowly to only include existing documents or reports, rather than all forms of recorded information related to governmental affairs. Had the Court accepted this argument, governments across the state could simply hide information they did not wish to be made public by keeping it stored in a computer database. Thankfully, the Court upheld the plain, statutory definition of a public record to include information stored in a computer database.”

 

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.

NPRI calls for putting teeth into public records law

“So, sue me,” seems to be the attitude of so many in Nevada government agencies when they are asked to comply with the state’s public records law.

They have no skin in the game. They just hire expensive lawyers at taxpayer expense to fight the request.

Take, for example, Nevada Policy Research Institute’s lawsuit this week over being denied Clark County School District emails relating to a possible termination of a whistleblower who reported possible test falsification. The district claimed the emails contained confidential information and refused to release anything, even though the law clearly states:

“A governmental entity that has legal custody or control of a public book or record shall not deny a request made pursuant to subsection 1 to inspect or copy or receive a copy of a public book or record on the basis that the requested public book or record contains information that is confidential if the governmental entity can redact, delete, conceal or separate the confidential information from the information included in the public book or record that is not otherwise confidential.”

NPRI Policy Director Robert Fellner was quoted in a press release as saying, “Despite state law mandating government agencies to be fully transparent to the people they ostensibly serve, CCSD knows it can violate the law with impunity, secure in the knowledge that none of its officials will ever face any penalty for their deliberate lawbreaking.”

That is why NPRI is calling on the Nevada Legislature to impose penalties on those who defy the law. Makes sense doesn’t it?

The purpose of the public records law is so the voters can hold public officials accountable when they act in a manner not in their best interest.

 

 

Editorial: Question 6 would cost money and provide no benefits

Current Nevada law requires 25 percent of the state’s electric power to come from renewable energy sources — such as solar, wind and geothermal — by 2025, but Question 6 on the November ballot asks voters to raise the requirement to 50 percent by 2030.

The initiative claims this will reduce the state’s reliance on fossil-fuel power plants and clean up the air.

But recent reports out of Europe note that carbon emission actually grew by 1.8 percent in 2017 despite a 25 percent increase in wind power and 6 percent growth in solar. Part of this is explained by the fact idling fossil fuel plants must be quickly brought online when the wind doesn’t blow and the sun doesn’t shine, and, just like cars in traffic, idling engines produce more carbon emissions. Also, maintaining both power sources increases infrastructure costs. The cost of electricity in Europe has increased 23 percent in the past decade.

So, Europeans are paying more and getting no emission decrease.

Nevada is already getting 20 percent of its electricity from renewables as each year the requirement ratchets up toward the current 25 percent goal, while over the past five years the cost per kilowatt-hour of power across all sectors has increased 11 percent in Nevada, though nationally rates fell 1 percent, according to figures from the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Meanwhile, carbon emissions due to power generation have largely flatlined, according to the Nevada Division of Environmental Protection.

Arizona also has on the ballot a proposal to increase renewables to 50 percent by 2030. Both measures are being bankrolled by San Francisco billionaire Tom Steyer.

Heartland Institute analyst James Taylor took a look at what impact the Arizona proposal would have on electricity bills there if the initiative passes. Taylor estimated that Arizona’s current 7 percent renewable power costs consumers $304 a year in higher rates and extrapolated that the 50 percent requirement could increase bills by more than $2,000 a year.

In 2013 Nevada Policy Research Institute commissioned Beacon Hill Institute of Suffolk University to analyze the impact of the current 25 percent renewable power portfolio (RPS) requirement. The report was titled “RPS: A Recipe for Economic Decline.”

Using a range of estimates from low to high, Beacon Hill estimated power bills could increase anywhere from less than 2 percent to nearly 11 percent. That high end estimate has been reached seven years early.

The study also said the 25 percent standard could cost Nevada between 590 and 3,070 jobs by 2025. Image the impact in doubling renewables in the next five years.

But those costs are outweighed when you calculate all the pollutants and greenhouse gases that won’t be poured into the air and cause the planet to overheat, some still argue.

“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 reports. “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.”

Since Question 6 will likely cost Nevadans money and jobs while producing no discernible benefit, we encourage a no vote this November.

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.

BLM pix

 

Editorial: Nevada court rightly upholds public right to know

The Nevada Supreme Court has made it clear that public officials cannot skirt the state public records law by using privately owned electronic devices to conduct the public’s business.

This past week the court unanimously overturned a lower court ruling that rejected a request for records from Lyon County commissioners because those records were not stored on devices owned by the county. The county conceded that public business was indeed conducted using personal phones and email addresses. The county website even lists those phone numbers and email addresses as the commissioners’ contact information.

“The use of private entities in the provision of public services must not deprive members of the public access to inspect and copy books and records relating to the provision of those services,” wrote Justice Michael Cherry, author of the opinion.

The Nevada Public Records Act (NPRA) states that, unless otherwise specifically exempted by law, “all public books and public records of a governmental entity must be open at all times during office hours to inspection by any person, and may be fully copied or an abstract or memorandum may be prepared from those public books and public records.”

Cherry further clarified, “In light of these requirements, (NPRA) cannot be read as limiting public records to those that are physically maintained at a government location or on a government server and are immediately accessible to the public during the business hours of that governmental entity. Such an interpretation would render … (the law) meaningless, as the records of private entities rendering public services would not necessarily be stored at the government office, and providing a time frame for resolving a records request would be unnecessary if records were required to be immediately produced for inspection at that location.”

Barry Smith, executive director of the Nevada Press Association, called the ruling important and substantial.

“If it had gone the other way, it would have created a gaping loophole in the law,” Smith said. “During oral arguments, justices asked the right questions. Essentially, they wondered, ‘How could the open-records law work if public officials could simply avoid it by using their personal devices?’”

Smith noted that John Marshall, the attorney for Lyon County citizens seeking the records, had a good analogy. “He said it would be like an official typing up a county document on his own typewriter at home and storing it in his personal filing cabinet. The principle remains the same. If it was public business, then it was a public document,” Smith explained.

Nevada Policy Research Institute Transparency Director Robert Fellner issued a statement saying, “In finding that public officials cannot hide their activities by simply conducting government business on personal devices, the Court reinforces the mandate within Nevada’s Public Records Law that it ‘be construed liberally to carry out [the] important purpose’ of a transparent and open government.”

In order for the public to properly evaluate the conduct of their elected and appointed officials, they must be able to see, hear and read what those officials are doing, why they are doing it, how they are doing it and for whom.

In this particular case Lyon County commissioners had rejected a zoning request for an industrial development, but later reversed themselves. Citizens filed a public records request seeking access to communications about the zoning matter whether contained on public or private devices.

Cherry’s opinion made it abundantly clear that public business must be transparent, writing, “We conclude that the NPRA does not categorically exempt public records maintained on private devices or servers from disclosure. To withhold a public record from disclosure, the government entity must present, with particularity, the grounds on which a given public record is exempt.”

We applaud the court for again upholding the public’s right to know.

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.

Ratcheting up renewable energy requirement will cost jobs, not create them

When the global warming alarmists set a goal for the amount of renewable energy Nevada must produce and the state successfully achieves that goal, it is not a sign of success. It is a sure sign the goal — gosh darn it — just wasn’t high enough.

For eight straight years NV Energy has met the renewable portfolio standard (RPS) that ratchets up each year until it reaches 25 percent for 2025. It is currently 20 percent.

A sign of success?

No. According to Sean Gallagher, vice president of state affairs for the Solar Energy Industries Association, that just means the goal was too low.

Solar panels

“NV Energy’s announcement demonstrates its commitment to expanding utility scale solar energy. Reaching their goal also makes clear that it’s time for Nevada to raise its Renewable Portfolio Standard to the next level, providing companies the certainty they need to invest, which will bring even more solar jobs to the state. Nevada residents will have their say on the ballot in November, and we strongly encourage them to vote to raise the state goal to 50 percent renewable energy by 2030,” Gallagher is quoted as saying in a press release.

To that end a group calling itself Nevadans for a Clean Energy Future is pushing a ballot initiative that would increase the RPS 50 percent by 2030. They have until the second week in June to collect 110,000 signatures to get it on the ballot in November.

Supporters talk about how many renewable energy jobs will be created.

But a study commissioned by Nevada Policy Research Institute and conducted by Beacon Hill Institute of Suffolk University found the current RPS is already costing Nevada jobs. Imagine what a doubling will do?

The report is titled RPS: A Recipe for Economic Decline. Using a range of estimates from low to high, Beacon Hill estimates the current RPS could cost Nevada between 590 and 3,070 jobs by 2025. This is because power bills would increase from less than 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.

“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 reports. “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.”

But never let the facts get in the way of a global warming alarmist.