Editorial: PERS should stop trying to hide public records

The Public Employees’ Retirement System should stop wasting taxpayer money and release the records of Nevada public employee retiree payments as the courts previously ordered them to do.
The Reno Gazette-Journal sued for these records in 2013 and won in the state Supreme Court, which found the records are clearly covered under the state public records law. The records were released, but the very next year PERS changed how their files are maintained in an obvious ruse to dodge the clear meaning of the court ruling. PERS now says their files do not contain names of retirees, but only Social Security numbers, which are confidential. They also say the law does not require them to create a new document from existing computer files, even though a past state Supreme Court in another case required just such a document creation.
Nevada Policy Research Institute sued PERS​ and the Supreme Court heard the case this past week.
​This past summer District Court Judge James Wilson spelled out clearly his rationale for requiring the records to be released: “Considering the purpose of the NPRA (Nevada Public Records Act), to foster democratic principles by providing member of the public with access to public books and records; the legislative mandate that courts construe the NPRA liberally to carry out this important purpose; the legislative mandate that any exemption, exception or balancing of interests which limits or restricts access to public books and records by members of the public must be construed narrowly; the lack of evidence that producing the requested information, retiree name, years of service credit, gross pension benefit amount, year of retirement, and last employer would require unreasonable demands or costs on PERS; the fact that PERS altered its procedure in providing information to its actuary to eliminate the names of retirees in part because of the Reno Newspapers decision, the court concludes that PERS does have a duty to create a document that contains the requested information.​”
​During this past week’s hearing Chief Justice Michael Douglas suggested that PERS had “gone out of its way to violate the spirit of the law.” Indeed it has.
All NPRI is seeking is ​ retiree name, payroll amount, date of retirement, years of service, last employer, retirement type, original retirement amount, and cost of living increases.
PERS argues there is some vague possibility of identity theft or fraud if this information is released, though the courts have ruled such supposition cannot outweigh the public’s right to know how their tax dollars are spent.
In fact, the Supreme Court has all ready addressed and adjudicated this in the Reno newspaper suit in 2013, saying, “Because PERS failed to present evidence to support its position that disclosure of the requested information would actually cause harm to retired employees or even increase the risk of harm, the record indicates that their concerns were merely hypothetical and speculative. Therefore, because the government’s interests in nondisclosure in this instance do not clearly outweigh the public’s presumed right to access, we conclude that the district court did not err in balancing the interests involved in favor of disclosure.”
NPRI’s attorney Joseph Becker argued in a brief filed with the court that the law “states that the purpose of PERS is to, ‘provide a reasonable base income to those whose earning capacity has been removed or substantially reduced,’ previously released records indicate that there are retirees in their 40’s collecting six figure disbursements from PERS while still earning income from other sources. … Only through the publication of name, pension payout and related data can the public better understand how the system works and the legislative purpose be effectuated. … Additionally, because lawmakers can directly profit from decisions they make pertaining to PERS, there is an overwhelming need for the public to have comprehensive access to this information.” Seems persuasive to us.
PERS should stop stalling and release the records.
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.

No fingerprints on the late, unlamented bill to reform public employee pensions

A year ago I wrote about how actuarially unsound the Nevada public employees pension system is and rhetorically asked whether anyone would have the courage to file a bill draft and weather the firestorm of the public unions.

Randy Kirner

Well, Republican Reno Assemblyman Randy Kirner introduced just such a bill, but there was no firestorm, not even a discussion and certainly not a vote. Assembly Bill 342 died without a whimper in the Assembly Ways and Means Committee.

Though the Review-Journal account of the demise of the bill failed to offer the Clue-like dénouement: “It was Ms. Carlton in the Ways and Means Committee room with an axe,” all the circumstantial evidence points this way.

In the Nevada Legislature all lawmakers are equal, except some are more equal than others, namely committee chairs such as Maggie Carlton, D-Unions, chair of Ways and Means, who can send a bill to Fiddler’s Green without having to answer to anyone.

You see:

But you gotta play by Nevada rules
Forget about da tings you learned in school
We use a different box of tools
And you gotta play by Nevada rules

And the No. 1 Rule is The House always wins, and in this case The House is a wholly-owned subsidiary of the public employee unions.

Maggie Carlton

Kirner’s bill would have created a hybrid retirement program for new employees hired after July 1, 2014. It would be a half defined-benefit and half defined-contribution plan. It included a cap on annual benefits and a prohibition against workers buying years of service credit. This little scam allows some public employees to work for 25 years, purchase five years of service credits, and retire at the age of 45 with 75 percent of their top pay adjusted for inflation for life.

The unfunded liability for the Public Employees’ Retirement System (PERS), for which the taxpayers are eventually on the hook, is officially $11.2 billion.

A study a year ago by Andrew Biggs, an American Enterprise Institute resident scholar, found that by using economist-preferred fair-market evaluations the number is closer to $41 billion. Annual contributions to cover costs and amortization, Biggs says, would be $5.8 billion. The state’s annual general fund is only $3 billion.

Though this unfunded liability has grown by $1.2 billion over the past two years, and that’s the “official” figure, Gov. Brian Sandoval has said he would not seek to fix the problem this year but support still another independent study, which, of course, will not be completed by the end of the session.

Here is how Clark County’s former county manager, Thom Reilly, explains the problem: