Editorial: PERS reform needed to curb ever higher costs

The PERS cost creep continues.

Earlier this month the board of directors of the Nevada Public Employees’ Retirement System authorized an increase in the amount state and local public employees and their employers — read: taxpayers — must contribute to cover pension costs.

That means, starting next July 1, for regular PERS members — teachers and other government workers — the amount of each paycheck that must be paid into the pension account will increase from 28 percent to 29.25 percent. Half of that amount comes from the worker and half from the taxpayers. Since the average public employee salary should be almost $53,000 a year by then, each worker would need to kick in on average another $330 or so a year to be matched from tax funds. (November 2018-Board Book)

Police and firefighters, who tend to have shorter careers, are assessed a higher amount. Their contributions will increase from 40.5 percent to 42.5 percent. Since the average pay should be more than $79,000 that means an almost $800 increase to be chipped in by each cop and firefighter, also matched with tax money. 

Expect those government workers to bemoan the pay check cut — even though their benefits contributions are being increased — and run crying to the Legislature to demand more money. 

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. 

According to the American Enterprise Institute, the average Nevada public employee pension is $64,000 a year, while the average Social Security annual benefit is $16,000. Nevada Policy Research Institute has posted at its TransparentNevada.com website a list of pensions paid in 2015. This includes more than 1,500 public employee pensioners drawing more than $100,000 a year.

The cost of these pensions have skyrocketed over the years.

Victor Joecks, a columnist for the Las Vegas newspaper, points out, “Nevada has been increasing contribution rates for decades to pay off unfunded pension liabilities. When PERS started in 1948, the contribution rate was 10 percent for all employees on their first $400 in earnings. In 2003, it was 18.75 percent for regular employees and 28.5 percent for police and fire. Next year’s rates are 56 percent higher for regular employees and a 49 percent increase for police and fire compared to 2003.”

Joecks calculates that if teachers contributed at the same rate they did in 2003 their take-home pay would be $2,800 more a year.

The system has an unfunded liability of more than $40 billion when one uses generally accepted accounting principles. That’s more than $53,000 per Nevada household.

It is long past time that the state change its 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.

There actually was a bill introduced in the 2013 legislative session that would have done this. The bill garnered no discussion and no vote was ever taken. It died without a whimper in the Assembly Ways and Means Committee.

One day the PERS balloon will burst. We call on lawmakers to act now.

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.

Proposed CCSD teacher contract gives union a lock on future funds

Screen shot from video explaining teacher union contract will give teachers 70 percent of any future funding that exceeds the minimum necessary to fund the Clark County School District.

It’s not a contract. It’s surrender.

The morning newspaper reported a week ago that the Clark County School District and its teachers union had agreed on a three-year contract that includes $51 million salary increases and health insurance contributions recently awarded in arbitration. The teachers are to vote on the contract Thursday.

Today, the paper’s political columnist reported on a little detail about the contract not previously mentioned. If in the future the state Legislature provides funding that is greater than the school district’s minimum needs, 70 percent of that additional money must go to compensate teachers — not hire more teachers, but pay more for the existing ones.

Columnist Victor Joecks remarked, “So (Superintendent Jesus) Jara’s plan to improve education is to pay the same people doing the same job more money. Talk about another example of how you can’t fix a broken system by pouring more money into it.”

Joecks also linked to a video posted online by Union Executive Director John Vellardita explaining the contract. The key portion starts at about the 3-minute mark:

 

Joecks concludes, “Nevada’s collective bargaining laws already severely limit Jara’s authority. You don’t solve that problem by handing what little control you do have to the teachers union.”

 

 

 

 

 

Charity? Yes, but charity for whom?

Ain’t charity grand? Even if it ain’t charity?

Some of the news accounts that heralded the announcement by Telsa Motors that it was giving $1.5 million to Nevada K-12 education as the first installment in a $37.5 million donation did get around to mentioning toward the end that the handout was part of a “commitment” the company made when it accepted $1.3 billion in tax breaks for building its electric care battery factory near Sparks in 2014.

All of the handouts were specifically targeted to items such as robotics and battery programs that might benefit the company.

The Las Vegas newspaper wrote that Gov. Brian “Sandoval said in a statement he was grateful for Tesla’s commitment and the opportunities it would provide.”

Grateful?

As one of the paper’s columnists got around to pointing out, the handout was required in the original deal. “Tesla will make direct contributions to K-12 education of $37.5 million beginning August 2018; grant $1 million to fund advanced battery research at UNLV; prioritize the employment of Nevadans and Veterans,” the deal states.

For that paltry sum and few other “commitments” the company got:

Columnist Victor Joecks noted:

Normally a company giving away millions of dollars for educational programs would be worth celebrating. But this wasn’t an act of corporate generosity. In 2014, the state provided Tesla with $1.3 billion in tax credits and abatements. As part of its pitch, the company promised to give $37.5 million to fund education programs.

Let’s save our praise for those doing philanthropy, not for a company using charity as political cover for a massive handout.

According to projections made in 2014, the gigafactory was to have 6,500 employees by now, but as of the end of 2017 it had only 1,400 employees.

According to the Nevada Appeal, Tesla qualified for $36.85 million in transferable tax credits, plus $115 million in tax abatements during the 2017 fiscal year alone.

Ain’t charity grand?

By the bye, Tesla’s CEO Elon Musk is worth $20 billion.

Tesla gigafactory tour in 2016. (AP pix via R-J)

 

 

Get out while the getting’s good or they’ll come for you next

Jane Ann Morrison with a Strip performer’s ape. (R-J file pix)

Run, Jane, run. Get out while you can with your reputation intact.

On page 1B of the Sunday newspaper Jane Ann Morrison announced she was voluntarily shoving aside her columnist keyboard. On the back of the Viewpoint section columnist Daniella Greenbaum reported that she had been basically shunted aside for failing to be politically correct.

Greenbaum wrote that she resigned from her post as Business Insider columnist after she wrote that actress Scarlett Johansson taking a movie role in which she would portray a transgender man was just make-believe and actors should be allowed to take on any roles they wish. The piece was spiked and she bailed. Johansson also dropped the planned role when the politically correct pique hit the roof.

After reading that I looked back at Jane Ann’s reminiscence about her decades as an ink-stained wretch and wondered if some self-styled animal rights zealot might take issue with that photo of her with a Strip performer’s ape. There’s always something. Eventually anyone who espouses an opinion is bound to run into the politically correct buzzsaw.

Two of today’s letters to the editor, conveniently, took umbrage with recent screeds by columnists Victor Joecks and Wayne Allyn Root for being insensitive.

An alert reader took the opportunity this morning to email a bit of anonymous satire someone had posted to the web:

It had been snowing all night. So at ….
8:00: I made a snowman.

8:10: A feminist passed by and asked me why I didn’t make a snow woman.

8:15: So, I made a snow womanNow I have a snow couple.

8:17: My feminist neighbor complained about the snow woman’s voluptuous chest saying it objectified snow women everywhere

8:20: The gay couple living nearby threw a hissy fit and moaned it should have been two snowmen instead

8:25: The vegans at the end of the lane complained about the carrot nose, as veggies are food and not to decorate snow figures with.

8:28: I am being called a racist because the snow couple is white.

8:42: The feminist neighbor complained again that the broomstick of the snow woman needs to be removed because it depicted women in a domestic role.

8:45: TV news crew shows up. I am asked if I know the difference between snowmen and snow-women? I reply, “Snowballs” and am called a sexist by the TV reporter.

9:00: I’m on the News as a suspected racist, homophobic sensibility offender bent on stirring up trouble during difficult weather.

9:29: Far left protesters offended by everything are marching down the street

Moral: There is no moral to this story.  It’s just the world in which we live today and it’s going to get worse.
By the bye, Jane Ann says she plans to give a shot at that novel that everyone is supposed to have inside of them. I can’t help but wonder if it will be set in a small desert, mob-infested gambling town called Three Cacti. (Hint: Obscure “literary” reference to one of her, and my, favorite mystery writers.)

 

 

 

 

Bias in the media? We’re shocked! Shocked we tell you!

Did a political columnist for the morning newspaper just accuse his own publication of political bias?

Columnist Victor Joecks noted that the media jumped all over an obscure Nye County commissioner disendorsing Republican gubernatorial candidate Adam Laxalt for failing to endorse the Republican primary winner in Assembly District 36, brothel owner Dennis Hof who has been accused of sexual harassment, but totally ignored a press release two weeks ago from Republican Sen. Dean Heller accusing Democratic primary senatorial nominee Jacky Rosen of resume enhancement.

In fact, the same day’s paper carried a lengthy story about the commissioner’s disendorsement of Laxalt along with quotes from Hof about how the move might hurt Laxalt in Nye County and a prepared statement by Laxalt stating, “Adam respects the will of the voters in District 36, however, as a husband and a father of two young daughters, he has stated that he will not be supporting Mr. Hof’s campaign.”

The story also quoted a Democratic Party spokeswoman accusing Laxalt of being two-faced on the topic by being silent about political supporters accused of sexual misdeeds — including a rural sheriff and former casino executive Steve Wynn.

The story did not quote any of the usual university professorial suspects as to whether Laxalt’s stance might help or hurt him or be of no consequence.

Heller’s press release noted that Rosen was quoted by the morning newspaper in 2016 as saying she couldn’t get a degree in computer science from the University of Minnesota because it didn’t exist when she graduated:

She fell in love with the emerging field of computer sciences. The field “just clicked” with her, Rosen said. But back in the 1970s, those degrees weren’t widely available, so she graduated with a degree in psychology while spending most of her free time in the school’s math lab honing her computer skills.

But the Heller press release noted that a story in The Atlantic in January said Rosen had a degree in computer science. The story was corrected online on the same day as Heller’s press release was issued.

Joecks also noted that Rosen told CSPAN3 a year ago she had a degree in computer science. He went on to note that several people’s political ambitions have been crushed when they were caught fudging their resumes.

Joecks concluded:

So why the disparity in coverage between Hof and Rosen? On the merits, it’s baffling. That’s what makes you start thinking about alternative explanations. In a 2013 national survey, just 7 percent of reporters self-identified as Republican. If Heller wins his election, Democrats have no chance of regaining control of the Senate.

Sometimes media bias is blatant. But often, it’s more subtle, like the media passing on telling you about Rosen’s résumé lie that could end her political career.

The owner of the morning newspaper may be a big Republican backer, but what about those in the trenches?

 

When a teacher is accused of kicking a student, mum’s the word

What would happen to you if you were accused of assaulting someone at work and refused to talk to the police about it?

Perhaps nothing if you are married to the boss.

According to a column by Victor Joecks in today’s morning newspaper, but posted online two days ago, school teacher Jason Wright, the husband of Clark County School Board President Deanna Wright, was accused back in March of kicking the hand of a 10-year-old student and jerking him about. The teacher refused to talk to school district police and the police declined to press charges, even though Joecks quotes a police report as saying the boy’s pinkie finger was “swollen and bruised.”

The teacher has since been transferred to another school.

To add insult to injury, so to speak, Joecks’ former employer, the Nevada Policy Research Institute, points out that there is a clause in the county teacher union contract that requires all information about such incidents if the accused is “cleared” to be expunged from all personnel files. Is declining to press charges the same as cleared?

Article 12, Section 10 of the contract states: “In the event civil or criminal proceedings are brought against a teacher and the teacher is cleared of said charge, all written reports, comments or reprimands concerning actions which the courts found not to have occurred, shall be removed from the teacher’s personnel file. No reference to criminal charges as described above shall be included in the personnel file. Entries into said file as they relate to civil or criminal proceedings described above shall be limited to violations of School District policy or administrative regulations, which are known beyond a reasonable doubt to have occurred.”

The NPRI article cited a case on point in which a teacher, who eventually pleaded guilty to three felony counts of attempted lewdness with a child in 2015, had his file wiped clean of other allegations dating back to 2008. “Had those allegations been reported on his confidential personnel file when he was transferred to a different school after the 2008 incident, perhaps administrators could have taken necessary steps to prevent the later abuses to which Mazo eventually pleaded guilty,” the article suggests.

We suspect the transfer of teacher Wright was not resisted by his principal. The guardian of the child in question told Joecks that the principal urged her to file a complaint and mentioned that the teacher’s wife was the president of the school board. The principal declined to talk to Joecks.

Mum’s the word.

 

Teacher Jason Wright (R-J pix)

A little difference of opinions over covering the news

On his contribution-financed news website, The Nevada Independent, editor Jon Ralston posted a commentary, under the headline “Cutting off The Indy spites the public we serve,” this week complaining about public officials refusing to talk to his reporters — specifically state Senate Minority Leader Michael Roberson, Attorney General Adam Laxalt and U.S. Sen. Dean Heller.

The piece quoted a Roberson aide as texting a reporter: “Senator Roberson only provides commentary to reputable news outlets. He does not consider The Nevada Independent as such.”

At one point Ralston suggested that elected officials refusing to talk to certain reporters was tantamount to violating public records laws.

He proclaimed:

“This is not about me or our team of journalists whining about access. This is about public officials, staffers, and agencies depriving the public of important information, context and nuance. They are not hurting me or The Indy. They are sullying the civic fabric by preventing access to information that drives essential public dialogue.

“Finally, a word on a laughable claim. Roberson, Laxalt and Heller have whispered that I am a Democratic partisan. Not only is that not so, but it is low to insinuate and patently false to say that any of our news stories have a partisan slant. Indeed, anyone who knows any of our reporters knows none of them would stand for me trying to inject my bias into their stories, even if I tried, which I never have and never would.”

 

In the online-no-love-lost-between-rivals there came a couple of rejoinders.

Victor Joecks, a conservative Review-Journal columnist, responded on Twitter with this critique: “Free advice: Conflating a govt official not responding to a reporter’s request for comment with a govt official not answering a public information request is one of the reasons folks think you’re a hack and just out to smear them.”

But conservative blogger Chuck Muth unleashed a 1,200-word diatribe that had to leave a welt.

Muth pointed that two days earlier Ralston had penned a screed in which he outlined the standards The Nevada Independent would use to cover elections. Ralston said that “there is no public benefit in covering candidates who have clearly demonstrated they are unfit for public office or who have zero chance of getting elected no matter what coverage they get.”

To which Muth replied, “In short, Blogger Jon will subjectively decide who is a credible candidate worthy of attention and who isn’t.”

Muth twisted the knife:

It seems a number of candidates and elected officials don’t consider the Ralston Rag to be a credible news organization and have been refusing to give his newsblog the time of day.

Indeed, Senate Minority Leader Michael Roberson is quoted as saying he only “provides commentary to reputable news outlets” and “does not consider The Nevada Independent as such.”

In other words, Roberson is treating Ralston the exact same way Ralston, just two days earlier, announced he’ll be treating certain candidates based on credibility.  Shoe on the other foot.  Sauce for the goose.

Ralston went on to spew forth his venom at Nevada Attorney General Adam Laxalt and U.S. Sen. Dean Heller for also blowing off interview requests from the Ralston Rag, whining that such blacklisting “is not just puerile (Jon loves to use fancy words to appear smarter than everyone else); it’s unethical and unconscionable.”