PERS officials need to stop misleading the courts, legislature and public at large

The most recent financial reports from the Public Employees’ Retirement System of Nevada (PERS) reveal a growing reliance on taxpayer funds, with the $1.57 billion that taxpayers sent to PERS last year representing a 34 percent increase from a decade prior, after adjusting for payroll growth (which includes both membership and inflation increases.)

In real dollar terms, Nevada taxpayers had to fork over nearly $500 million more last year than the 2007 rate, despite the fact that retirement benefits for new hires were actually reduced over that time period. In other words, taxpayers are forced to pay more while public employees get less.

It is bad enough that today’s taxpayers are forced to pay for PERS past funding failures — which are the fault of the Legislature and PERS officials who lobbied for unsustainable benefits to be passed without accounting for their cost. The very least PERS can do is be honest about it.

Instead, PERS has chosen to mislead the public, yet again.

In the Review-Journal investigative report “pension system abuses cost taxpayers $23 million a year,” former state Assemblyman Randy Kirner expressed concern that taxpayers would ultimately be forced to bail the system out.

According to the paper, PERS executive officer Tina Leiss responded to Kirner by claiming that “the idea of a taxpayer bailout is not supported by any facts.”

But as was shown above, this bailout is already happening and a further hike in taxpayer contributions is precisely how PERS intends to pay down its multi-billion dollar debt going forward.

Unfortunately, this is just the latest example of misdirection at PERS.

PERS has become infamous for defying the state’s public records law after officials submitted false or misleading testimony to multiple courts in an effort to keep their data secret.

Even the Legislature gets the PERS treatment.

In testimony earlier this year — ostensibly to provide the Legislature with an update regarding the System’s health — PERS officials doubled down on their long-standing practice of emphasizing the growth of assets, while ignoring liabilities entirely.

Because they were only shown one half of PERS balance sheet, the Legislature was left with the impression that the System was thriving, when, in fact, its debt continues to soar each and every year, as liabilities grow faster than assets.

As a public entity funded by tax dollars, PERS officials have an obligation to provide complete and accurate information, not spin.

Robert Fellner is NPRI’s director of transparency research. A condensed version of this letter first appeared in the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

 

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Right to work

Earlier this year, Missouri became the 28th state “Right to Work” state in the nation, meaning workers will no longer be required to join a union as a condition of employment. The move was seen as a big win for business owners in the state who had been harassed by labor unions in the past — but it’s also a big win for workers. Now, unions will have to focus less on political lobbying and harassment campaigns, and more on winning the support of workers by providing actual value for their membership dues. (Read more)

 

Labor unions

The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees filed a grievance against Western Michigan University recently, because the school is using goats, rather than union workers, to tackle a poison ivy problem in a wooded area on campus. The university contends the decision to use goats was made in an attempt to be environmentally friendly, but the union argues the goats are effectively stealing union jobs. (Read more)

 

Public pensions

The Nevada government wastes at least $23 million each year through a practice that boosts the income of some public employees by using the state’s underfunded pension system, PERS. The practice of double-dipping — earning a taxpayer-funded salary while ostensibly being “retired” from a former public position — was outlined in depth by the Las Vegas Review-Journal this last week. NPRI Transparency Director Robert Fellner explains that the practice isn’t just costly, it also runs contrary to the stated purpose of PERS under Nevada law — namely, to provide a reasonable base income for public employees who are no longer able to work. (Read more)

                                                                                                                   

Education

Beginning in 2020, Chicago will implement an invasive regulatory scheme in an attempt to ensure that high school seniors are prepared for life after high school. In order to graduate, students will be required to prove they are following one of five government-approved “plans” for their life after graduation. Students will be required to show proof that they have been accepted into a college or university, a gap-year program, military service, a trade apprenticeship or a job. Mayor Rahm Emanuel claims the new guidelines will help the city’s children succeed long-term, but critics point out that the regulations are yet another government attempt to run people’s lives for them. (Read more)

 

School choice

Several years ago, a Colorado county tried to implement a school choice program that provided up to 500 families with scholarships to send their children to private schools. Of course anti-choice opponents quickly filed lawsuits, claiming that the state constitution’s Blaine Amendment prohibited the funds from going toward religious schools. Last week, however, the United States Supreme Court gave school choice proponents a big win in the case. The nation’s high court sent the message that it “would not tolerate the use of Blaine Amendments to exclude religious options from school choice programs,” explained Michael Bindas, a senior attorney with the Institute for Justice. (Read more)

 

 

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Labor and unions

Nevada teachers who would like to opt out of their union better hurry! The window for teachers to opt out begins tomorrow, on Saturday, July 1st, and will close in just 14 days on July 15th. The intentionally short window is, of course, inconvenient for teachers — who are likely enjoying their summer vacation, rather than worrying about labor representation. But, if they want to save a few hundred dollars per year — up to $800 in Clark County — they had better hurry. The Nevada Policy Research Institute provides pre-written opt out letters teachers can use at npri.org. (Read more)

 

Fiscal and taxes

According to the Congressional Budget Office, the United States Treasury is on pace to run out of cash by October. On March 15, 2017, the suspension of the debt limit expired, and since then the Treasury has been able to borrow additional funds. The CBO warns that without further authority to borrow, Treasury will be unable to pay debt obligations or fund various programs. Unsurprisingly, the political battle will likely be over how much to raise the debt ceiling, rather than how to avoid such perpetual overspending in the first place. (Read more)

 

Minimum wage

A recently released study showing the detrimental impact of minimum wage hikes in Seattle should have been a warning to progressive groups hoping to justify a $15 minimum wage. Instead, the Seattle City council — which had commissioned the original study in the hope that it would have “better” news for their progressive policies — has decided to simply ignore the lessons from the damning report. In fact, the council has commissioned a new study, in hopes of getting some results that tell them what they want to hear. (Read more)

 

Cronyism

Las Vegas isn’t the only local government in America prepared to throw money at private sports teams. According to the Cato Institute, a county in Virginia is about to decide whether to issue $35 million in bonds to build a new baseball stadium for the Potomac Nationals, a Class A affiliate of the Washington Nationals. The millionaire who owns the team has even threatened to leave the county if the stadium isn’t built. According to a wildly optimistic “report” from a consulting firm hand-picked by the county, the new stadium would generate 288 jobs, $175 million in economic impact, and $4.9 million in tax revenue. Of course, similar studies have proven to be notoriously inaccurate. (Read more)

 

Transparency

NPRI’s transparency projects are, yet again, having tangible impacts in public policy. In May, TransparentCalifornia.com — NPRI’s sister site to TransparentNevada.com — reported on the massive abuse of overtime among public employees. One utilities dispatcher in Riverside California, for example, managed to collect $257,719 in overtime, more than tripling his annual base pay. Now, thanks to the Transparent California report, Riverside has been pressured into bringing the overtime abuse to an end — and is taking steps to prevent such abuses in the future. (Read more)

 

 

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Nevada’s 79th legislative session

Governor Sandoval closed out the session by vetoing a “Medicaid-for-everyone” proposal — a bill designed to use state government to greatly expand government-run health insurance. Considering the Governor’s previous record backing the ACA and then expanding of its Medicaid option in Nevada, the bill’s fate was uncertain until the last minute, when Sandoval issued his veto, criticizing the bill’s “lack of specifics.” But, as NPRI Communication Director Michael Schaus told Reason.com, “Until the political discussion about healthcare goes beyond a promise to make someone else pay for everyone else's healthcare, real progress simply cannot be made.” [Read more]

 

Government waste and abuse

According to a report in the Las Vegas Review-Journal, Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority security officers do more than just protect the public — they also act as personal chauffeurs for CEO Rossi Ralenkotter and former Mayor Oscar Goodman. In one instance, a guard and his bomb-sniffing dog waited about an hour outside a doctor’s office near Sunrise Hospital & Medical Center to give Ralenkotter a ride. In fact, the taxpayer-funded shuttling rides have become so commonplace, that staff members dub them “Rossi runs” and “Oscar runs.” [Read more]

 

National healthcare policy

Senate Republicans unveiled their plan to “fix” the Affordable Care Act — but not everyone in the party is happy. At least four GOP Senators have said they plan on not voting for the bill, arguing that it does not even begin to “repeal” or “replace” Obamacare. And they’re not alone. The Cato Institute’s Michael Cannon was quick to warn that the bill is surprisingly void of any actual free-market solutions. “The Senate bill is not even a step in the right direction,” warns Cannon. [Read more]
 

Government spending

New York City’s subway has been sucking up taxpayer subsidies for decades — and yet, the quality of service continues to get worse. The reason why is pretty simple to understand: it’s run by government. For example, New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) has spent more than $100 billion since the 1980s on infrastructure upgrades, and yet the signal system — the system that governs the traffic of the subway cars themselves — has not been upgraded since the 1930s. The 1930s! [Read more]

 

Free speech

The Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing about free speech on campus, in light of recent protests over various “controversial” speakers. One of the panelists was a 21 year old self-described liberal Democrat, Zachary Wood, who is working to protect free speech on campus. “When speakers are barred,” noted Wood, “what happens is that you have certain preconceptions, certain assumptions about how people see the world that do not get challenged in any way. You lose sight of individual differences. It subsumes individuality, and you don’t appreciate people for the uniqueness of their own perspectives.” [Read more]

 

NPRI’s Policy success story for the week:

In 2015, a San Francisco BART janitor abused overtime rules — taking taxpayers for a ride as he managed to quadruple his base pay, bringing in more than $271,000, according to NPRI’s transparency website, TransparentCalifornia.com.

When we broke the story, it immediately spread all over the world. Not only did California media quickly run with the report, but it even caught the attention of European and Chinese media outlets! And it’s easy to see why: A report from Transparent California shows Liang Zhao Zhang worked an average of 114 hours per week in 2015. His overtime in alone amounted to $162,000 that year.

Well, it wasn’t too long before all this attention resulted in actual policy changes. BART officials now say that overtime will no longer be available for janitors in 2017.

And when a tax-and-spend government agency enacts basic reforms because of a little transparency, it should be considered a pretty big win.

This story underscores just how important NPRI’s transparency projects — TransparentNevada.com and TransparentCalifornia.com — are in getting substantive changes enacted throughout the region.

 

 

 

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Fiscal and taxes

The once-skyrocketing sales of electric vehicles in Denmark have come crashing to a standstill, now that the country is phasing out the industry’s subsidies and special tax exemptions. Clearly, one of the lessons to be learned is that the industry depends too heavily on political favoritism for its survival. Equally as important is the fact that Denmark’s non-subsidized sectors face punitively high taxes and regulation. A case in point would be the country’s jaw-dropping 180 percent import tax — a tax that, until recently, was waived for the politically connected “green” auto industry. (Read more)

Government spending

The Reno City Council is set to receive another automatic pay raise this summer. The 2.5 percent increase will mean a salary of almost $80,000 for the mayor, and just over $73,000 for council members — a 33 percent increase since the automatic annual increases were approved in 2004. Of course, these figures do not take into account the other pay and benefits. Last year, for example, total compensation for the mayor was more than $121,000, according to TransparentNevada.com. Some of the benefits enjoyed by the Mayor and council members are cash perks, such as a $9,000 annual car allowance and a $1,800 annual cell phone allowance. (Read more)

Education

Once again, Nevada has been ranked as one of the worst states for education — ranking 49th in the “Kids Count Data Book.” The report comes after teacher unions and the public-school establishment effectively killed the state’s groundbreaking attempt to empower parents with Education Savings Accounts. Instead, thanks to these special interests, more tax money has been funneled into the same system that has repeatedly, and consistently, failed our younger generations. (Read more)

Cronyism

For more than a decade, Dr. Lee Birchansky has been fighting to open an outpatient surgical center attached to his doctor’s office, but has been unable to acquire the necessary “Certificate of Need” license from the state. Interestingly, while necessary for Birchansky’s surgical center, the license is not required for competing surgical centers located at and operated by hospitals. That probably explains why local area hospitals have relentlessly petitioned (successfully) for the state to reject his multiple requests for licensure. (Read more)

Healthcare

Free-market advocates continue to be skeptical of the Affordable Care Act “repeal” effort. In large part, that’s because the so-called “repeals,” so far, retain much of the law’s regulatory structure and instead merely issue limited waivers for certain specific provisions. The Texas Public Policy Foundation penned an opinion piece in the National Review that suggests a different approach worth considering: Change the “repeal” effort from a waiver-granted partial opt-out of Obamacare, to one in which states may voluntarily choose to opt in to Obamacare’s regulatory structure. Doing so, according to the column, would leave “other states fully free from Obamacare’s regulatory nightmare.” (Read more)

 

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Nevada Legislature

Despite repeated promises to fund Education Savings Accounts, Governor Sandoval and a handful of Senate Republicans yielded to ESA opponents by allowing the program to remain unfunded. After voting for a budget that had been the only leverage available to ESA supporters, legislative leadership refused to entertain the governor’s proposed ESA fix, SB506. “It is disheartening to see that, for many lawmakers, politics are more important than the needs of individual children,” said NPRI Communication Director Michael Schaus. (Read more)

 

Education

There’s a very simple reason corruption is so widespread in Clark County School District: Controls on bad behavior are almost nonexistent. One corner of the district’s central office demonstrates just how excessive this kind of corruption and abuse truly is. As news stories throughout 2014 and 2015 would detail, one administrator, while pulling down a significant district salary, was also operating a theft ring from behind her directorship of CCSD’s Adult English Language Acquisition Services (AELAS) program. Over the course of several years, she stole tax dollars from the district through bogus purchase orders, funneled public money into a hidden bank account and even used student fees to purchase a hair salon! But that was just the beginning. (Read more)

 

Government regulation

There is a reason that flying in modern America is frequently unpleasant. For starters, the federal government has a large footprint in the industry. Maybe this is why both corporate leaders and unions are cheering a move to privatize air traffic control. As Kevin Williamson explains in the National Review, “Privatization would not change the union’s status, and the FAA is so screwed up that even American union bosses shake their heads in dismay and disbelief at its incompetence.” (Read more)

 

Civil Asset Forfeiture

Nevada may once again have failed to reform the state’s civil-asset-forfeiture laws, but other corners of the nation are seeing more success. The Connecticut legislature has passed a bill that would require a criminal conviction before assets could be seized. “Civil forfeiture is one of the most serious assaults on Americans’ private property rights,” according to the Institute for Justice’s Lee McGrath. “The bill is a solid first step to ensure that innocent people do not lose their property to this appalling legal nightmare.” The bill is now awaiting the signature of Governor Dannel Malloy. (Read more)

 

Fiscal and taxes

Have you ever noticed that elected officials only seem to understand basic economics when it is politically expedient? As the American Enterprise Institute points out, “the same Seattle City Council that passed a $15-an-hour minimum wage ordinance a few years ago and assumed that a large increase in wages for low-skilled workers would have no negative employment effects, just approved a new large tax on sugary drinks such as soda pop assuming that it will reduce consumption of those beverages.” The Venn diagram accompanying the article says it all. (Read more)

 

 

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Nevada legislature:

Last-minute negotiations over Education Savings Accounts are quickly heating up at the Nevada Legislature. Parents showed up in large numbers Monday to testify in support of SB506 — but that was just the beginning. On Thursday, negotiations broke down, causing Republicans to vote against a number of Democrat proposals. Democrats then retaliated by rejecting any funding for the program — leading one anti-ESA lawmaker to tell a parent that “payback is a bitch.” Despite the contentious back and forth, Sandoval continues to say that an agreement will be made between the two sides before the end of the legislative session on Monday. (Read more)

 

Government regulation:

An Obama Administration rule aimed at policing retirement investments could keep millions of average American investors from getting professional guidance, according to a new report from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. The Chamber’s Center for Capital Markets Competitiveness warns that the rules — which would allow regulators to oversee the relationship between advisers and clients — would effectively kill access to retirement consultants for large groups of Americans. So far, the Trump Administration has not indicated if it will kill the regulatory scheme. (Read more)

 

Free speech:

The newspaper for Wellesley College recently ran an editorial explaining that the college deeply values free speech — unless such speech is determined to be “hate” speech. The editorial, which nonsensically juggles the phrase “free speech” with the explicit call for censorship, even suggests that politically unpopular speech should, in certain circumstances, be countered with “hostility” from students. “If people are given the resources to learn and either continue to speak hate speech or refuse to adapt their beliefs,” it reads, “then hostility may be warranted. If people continue to support racist politicians or pay for speakers that prop up speech that will lead to the harm of others, then it is critical to take the appropriate measures to hold them accountable for their actions.” According to the editorial, censorship is necessary to address “problematic opinions.” (Read more)

 

Government waste and abuse:

Federal and state governments are usually the main focus when it comes to identifying government waste, fraud and abuse. But local governments often have just as much impact on our daily lives. One town government recently forced teenagers to get business licenses for, during the summer, cutting their neighbor’s grass. In New York, corrupt and incompetent teachers are often kept on the payroll, despite not being allowed to actually do any work. While, the examples are almost endless, Dan Mitchell provides some recent highlights. (Read more)

 

Labor unions:

One of the nation’s most influential labor unions, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), spent more money on partisan political activities than it did on actually representing its members. About $20 million more. In 2016 alone, the union spent $55.3 million on “political activities and lobbying” compared to the $36.4 million in “representational activities.” Think about that. That means over $55 million paid by taxpayers was used explicitly to lobby governments to take more money from taxpayers for ever-higher taxpayer-funded salaries. (Read more)

 

 

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Free speech:

Supporters of the Obama-era plan to regulate the Internet have been busy protesting the Federal Communications Commission’s recent decision to reverse course. Known as “net neutrality,” the regulations would have essentially treated the Web as a utility — subjecting it to heavy-handed FCC rules originally designed to govern telephone companies in the early 20th century. Recently, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai announced that he will be reversing the rules, causing backlash among supporters of big government. These opponents of Pai, however, don’t seem to have a coherent message around which they can rally. Claiming they want “a free and accessible” Internet, the net-neutrality advocates gathered in front of the FCC building this last week, demanding he censor a handful of “controversial” websites. (Read more)

 

Education:

“Social justice” isn’t something normally seen as a key component of mathematics — but one online course aimed at teachers hopes to make it so. “Teaching Social Justice Through Secondary Mathematics” was developed by Teach for America and is being offered through EdX. In part, the class description explains that “mathematics has been used as a dehumanizing tool” for centuries. Incoherently, the class instructs teachers to keep politics out of their math class but then strongly encourages them to “blend secondary math instruction with topics such as inequity, poverty, and privilege” in an effort to “transform students into global thinkers.” (Read more)

 

Government regulations:

Senate Democrats in Washington D.C. are trying to limit lawmakers’ ability to review regulations implemented by largely unaccountable bureaucrats. The partisan legislation would kill the 1996 Congressional Review Act, making it more difficult for lawmakers to evaluate and reverse onerous regulations. Among other things, the bill — sponsored by Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) — would immediately reinstate the 14 regulations that have been overturned by congress in the past few months. (Read more)

 

Civil Asset Forfeiture:

The Connecticut House of Representatives passed a major reform to that state’s civil-asset-forfeiture laws this week. The House passed HB7146, which would require a criminal conviction before authorities are allowed to permanently seize assets under civil asset forfeiture rules. If enacted, Connecticut would join a handful of other states that have similar restrictions in place. A recent attempt in Nevada, on the other hand, died in the state senate earlier this year. (Read more)

 

Nevada’s 79th Legislature:

Nevada parents are letting their voice be heard when it comes to Education Savings Accounts. Moms, dads and even educators showed up to a recent legislative hearing to testify before lawmakers on the importance of educational choice. At times, things got emotional, as parents explained that ESAs are critical in providing their children with the opportunity for a better education. (Watch the video)

 

 

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Asset forfeiture:

Beyond violations of due process and individual rights, civil asset forfeiture is recognized as a serious criminal justice issue because it incentivizes abuse of the system. Why? Because assets seized through the process directly benefit the law enforcement agencies involved. Of course, some states are worse than others on this front. In Hawaii, for example, the seized assets must be used to “fight crime.” But that’s a term with a lot of latitude for interpretation. The Maui police department, for example, felt the best way to “fight crime” with seized assets was to purchase new ice makers. (Read more)

                                                                                                                                    

Cronyism:

Elon Musk likes to fashion himself as an environmental capitalist — but there’s not much about his business model that is actually capitalistic. Musk’s latest announcement is that he plans to produce “solar roofs” for homes — roof tiles that act as solar arrays, without creating the eyesore of traditional panels. Making the scheme affordable, however, is really only possible thanks to massive federal tax credits awarded to Musk’s company for each installed roof. Once again, Musk shows that he is extremely talented at using “environmentalism” to make money off unsuspecting taxpayers. (Read more)

 

Government corruption:

The larger the school district, the more corruption seems to follow. In late September 2013, CCSD Trustee Erin Cranor came across information indicating that she and fellow trustees had been misled about the actual costs of an insurance contract the district was expected to sign. Rather than costs falling, as trustees had been told, they were actually rising — between $6 and $7 million. Moreover, the new contract contained a massive, unacknowledged increase to the insurance broker’s commission. When Cranor raised the issue, it became clear that district corruption was running deeper than the public realized. (Read more)

 

Federal lands:

Before leaving office, the Obama Administration imposed land use restrictions on more than 72 million acres of western lands — but those protections may not remain in place for very long, thanks to a rarely used anti-regulatory tool. The Congressional Review Act of 1996 gives President Trump and the Republican congress the ability to reverse much of Obama’s last-minute actions on public lands. According to the Pacific Legal Foundation, the act allows Congress to essentially vote on the slew of land-use restrictions. (Read more)

 

 

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Communism:

Left-wing journalist Vivian Gornick published an op-ed in the New York Times this week, nostalgically recalling the days when many Americans were seduced by the promises of Communism. “America was fortunate to have had the communists here,” she quoted her mother as saying. “They, more than most, prodded the country into becoming the democracy it always said it was.” Her praise for American communists in the early 20th century didn’t stop with her mother’s words. In fact, throughout the piece, Gornick celebrated the communist movement — the very political ideology that was responsible for nearly 100 million deaths in the 20th century alone. (Read more)

 

Government corruption:

New York City’s expensive, convoluted and decidedly arbitrary system for issuing handgun permits is already a gross infringement on New Yorkers’ Second Amendment rights. As it turns out, however, it is also ripe for corruption. As with most overly bureaucratic, heavy-handed government entities, New York’s handgun licensing department has been plagued with scandals. In one of the most recent cases, handgun permits were essentially up for auction to the highest bidder — often being given to known criminals while the agency routinely denied permits to law-abiding citizens. (Read more)

 

Climate and environmental:

It comes as no surprise that the Nevada legislature is, yet again, going to try to micromanage the energy market through a variety of new renewable energy mandates and subsidies. Sadly, it is even less of a shock that there is little-to-no pushback against these initiatives. After all, just look at the way the climate-change lobby labels anyone who questions their policies as a “climate denier.” The truth is, however, these environmentalists are more about cronyism than they are about saving polar bears or preserving the environment. (Read more)

 

Education:

It’s worth repeating: Among parents, educational choice is not a partisan issue. According to a recent study, about 60 percent of Californians support the idea of school choice — including about half of self-described liberals. The results echo an earlier survey done in 1998, where 58 percent of California residents supported the concept. And yet, school choice initiatives have been repeatedly blocked in the state, thanks to massive campaigns funded by the California Teachers Association and other public unions. Which is also unsurprising — unions, after all, aren’t paid to represent the interests of children, parents or students. (Read more)

 

Fiscal and taxes:

Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s national war on sugary drinks lost another battle this week. After pouring $1.5 million into an initiative campaign to impose a “soda tax” in Santa Fe, New Mexico, the billionaire saw voters come out in droves to soundly reject the nanny-state measure. The voter turnout was higher than the previous mayoral election, and 58 percent of voters rejected the 2 cent per ounce proposal. (Read more)

 

 

Total Records: 2067

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