PERS secrecy bill: A rebuttal

The PERS secrecy bill (SB384) will be heard tomorrow by the Assembly Committee on Government Affairs. The advocates for secrecy claim that publicizing the names and pension amount of PERS members would lead to cybercrime — a claim flatly rejected by:

  1. Three Nevada courts, including a unanimous state Supreme Court opinion;
  2. A top national organization working to educate the public about identity theft — the Identity Theft Resource Center;
  3. Dozens of courts in the 35 states nationwide that make this information public;
  4. The Nevada PERS Retirement Board itself, which voted 7-0 to support the original version of SB384 that made names and payout data public;
  5. Real world experience. As the RGJ Editorial Board astutely noted, “if millions of public retirees’ data has been released for many years across Nevada and the nation and none has been linked to identify theft, the case has been made for lack of harm, not future danger.”

Against that consensus, the arguments for PERS secrecy are best epitomized by state Senator David Parks, who stated before voting to make his $100,000 taxpayer-funded pension secret that:

“As a retired public employee myself, I share the same concerns that [advocates of the bill] have.”

While most view such a blatant conflict of interest as a compelling reason to err on the side of transparency, the majority of Senate Democrats would prefer to keep the public in the dark, as evidenced by their having passed SB384 11-10 last month.

Now that the arguments for secrecy have been roundly rejected by every possible authoritative source, it should be obvious that this bill is not about shielding retirees from possible cybercrime — it’s about shielding the system from transparency, accountability and public scrutiny, while still forcing taxpayers to send PERS $1.5 billion each and every year.

 

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Constitutional issues:

State Senator Heidi Gansert is pushing back against NPRI’s lawsuit, which asserts she is in violation of the Nevada Constitution by occupying government positions in the legislature and the executive branch simultaneously. “In her motion to dismiss [the NPRI lawsuit], Senator Gansert essentially (and unilaterally) rewrites the relevant section of the Nevada constitution, then alleges her rewrite warrants dismissal of the suit,” commented NPRI’s Center for Justice and Constitutional Litigation Director Joseph Becker. (Read more)

 

Government waste and corruption:

Large school districts — like most large monopolies — tend to be full of corruption and abuse. Clark County School District is no different. From deliberately hiding large scale projects from trustees, to misleading trustees about the cost of insurance, the Nevada Journal has highlighted a handful of examples. And they’re not isolated incidents. In fact, such incidents are merely indicators of a much larger culture of waste and abuse within the District. (Read more)

 

Minimum wage:

Researchers at Harvard Business School recently published a study looking into the effects minimum-wage hikes have on one of the industries most susceptible to such increases: the food service industry. The study, which focused on the Bay Area, found that wage increases triggered restaurant closures in a big way. Unsurprisingly, new restaurants and those with lower-priced menus were especially hard hit by the area’s recent wage hikes. Likely, this is due to the fact that higher quality restaurants have more flexibility to raise prices and absorb costs. Also noted in the study is the fact that higher minimum wages tend to deter entrepreneurial restaurateurs from opening new locations. (Read more)

 

Education:

Despite spending more than $23,000 per student, New York City kids are not receiving the kind of education they should. In grades three to eight, only 36 percent of kids in New York City Department of Education schools are earning a passing score in math. In English, the pass rate was just 38 percent. Many inner city schools are even worse. And yet, rather than change the way education is delivered, or open the system up to more educational options, Mayor Bill De Blasio has another plan: government funded pre-pre-K. The program would be aimed at getting children as young as 3 years old enrolled in an already failing government education system. (Read more)

 

Fiscal and economy:

The world is changing. Within human society, the economy that gives birth to mankind’s jobs and occupations, has transformed time and time again, from agricultural to industrial to whatever we are experiencing now. Sometimes sociologists call our current era a “postindustrial economy,” which, as Senator Ben Sasse writes in the Wall Street Journal, is basically “another way of saying ‘we don’t have anything to call it.’” These kinds of changes are disruptive, and require innovation and entrepreneurship to overcome. The “team sport” mentality of bitter modern politics, however, is making this most recent economic (and social) transformation even more difficult than normal. (Read more)

 

 

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Nevada legislature:

A bill before the Nevada Legislature aims to make the names of public employees in the state retirement system exempt from public-records requirements. The move to make PERS information secret and inaccessible by the public has been nearly universally denounced by transparency organizations and Nevada press outlets — primarily because it is “based upon unfounded fears,” and “weakens scrutiny of government fraud, abuse and waste,” according to the Reno Gazette-Journal’s most recent editorial. Notably, the entire RGJ editorial board agreed the bill was a bad idea — except for one member who, himself, is a public-employee retiree. (Read more)

 

Taxes and fiscal:

One bill working its way through the legislature has really fallen under most people’s radar. Senate Bill 149 would, ostensibly, open the way for a light rail line between McCarran International Airport and the Strip. But, in reality, it would allow local transportation agencies the ability to suggest commerce-tax increases for expensive new transportation-related projects. In other words: it would allow yet another government-funded agency to lobby for higher taxes on the local level. (Read more)

 

Cronyism:

Clark County Commission Chairman Steve Sisolak is confident that the new partially taxpayer-funded Raiders Stadium will be built by the beginning of the 2020 NFL season. In order to do that, however, Sisolak expects local spending on infrastructure projects to be accelerated. Moreover, everything related to the Raiders’ deal — including NFL schedules, team plans and other infrastructure-related projects — will have to be completed without any delays or distractions. (Read more)

 

Progressivism:

What does it mean to be “progressive” in politics? It’s a word that is often thrown around by politicians — and for good reason. After all, it sounds forward-thinking and compassionate, right? Well, judging by policy ideas and the effects of “progressive” initiatives, it might not be nearly as forward-thinking as people on the left believe it is. (Watch the video)

 

Education:

It’s hardly a surprise that there would be waste, fraud and abuse in the Clark County School District. But the extent to which this waste and abuse has cost taxpayers is positively astounding. In 2008, a private consultant who was being paid handsomely to help CCSD streamline their bureaucracy walked away from the project because the district refused to accept any of his important suggestions. Moreover, the higher-up responsible for deep-sixing his suggestions later found herself in hot water after taking over $20,000 in “sick leave” pay, while actually working fulltime for a county in another state. (Read more)

 

 

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Nevada’s 79th Legislative Session:

Property taxes, minimum wage hikes, labor union handouts, renewable energy mandates, attacks on transparency and plenty of other bad ideas are making their way through Nevada’s legislature. The worst-of-the-worst are listed on NPRI’s Taxpayer Guide, and it’s easy to see a pattern: Politicians are anxious to find new ways to spend your money. Unfortunately, until lawmakers adjourn in early June, this relentless grab for taxpayer wallets is unlikely to stop. (Read more)

 

Minimum wage:

As Nevada legislators mull the possibility of raising the minimum wage, they should first look to our west and witness the real-world impacts of such increases. After raising the minimum wage in San Diego, local restaurant workers — a workforce especially sensitive to fluctuations in minimum wage — are finding it ever more difficult to find and keep a job. Restaurateurs have been raising menu prices and laying off workers across the board, just to keep already-thin profit margins in the black. For low-wage San Diego residents, it’s becoming increasingly clear that rather than getting a pay raise, they’re getting stuck with a higher cost of living and even fewer job opportunities. (Read more)

 

Education:

Nevada lawmakers are looking at ways to reduce, if not eliminate, the role of standardized tests in teacher evaluations. Democratic Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson said he’s always been “troubled” that the performance of teachers is gauged by how well the students they teach perform, when tested on what they’ve learned. If Frierson and his allies are successful, it would mark a sharp reversal from 2011 reforms that began including students performance in teacher evaluations. Governor Sandoval has said he’s open to potential changes. (Read more)

 

Over-regulation:

The video of a man being violently pulled off an overbooked United Airlines flight went viral this week. Kevin Williams, in the National Review, points out that the unpleasant episode has further fueled the general public’s disdain for the air-travel industry in general. And it’s easy to see why: Like banks, health-insurance companies and cable providers, airlines have steadily grown less and less responsive to the needs of its customers. As Williams puts it, “The managers act as though the business were organized for their benefit rather than for the customers, and that attitude seeps down to front-line workers.” So what, exactly, is causing this? (Read more)

 

Cronyism:

This week Tesla Motors saw its stock price climb to more than that of General Motors. It was an impressive milestone for the electric car manufacturer, which sold just under 80,000 cars last year. (By comparison, GM sold 80,000 Chevy Silverados in a mere eight weeks.) Clearly, plenty of investors believe in the future profitability and success of Tesla. Of course, this raises an important public policy question: If Tesla’s future looks so bright, why must it depend so heavily on taxpayer-funded subsidies for its very survival? (Read more)

 

 

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Nevada’s 79th legislative session:

Senate Bill 384 aims to make the names of public employee retirees completely secret — exempting them from public record laws. As a recent Review Journal op-ed put it, “SB384 will gut accountability protections and breed further cynicism about our public institutions.” But, it’s actually worse than that. As written, the bill would make every single public employee’s name confidential. (Read more)

 

Supreme Court:

On Friday, the United States Senate confirmed Neil Gorsuch for the Supreme Court. The Senate voted 54-45 to seat Gorsuch on the high court after a 14-month vacancy left by the death of Justice Antonin Scalia in February 2016. Gorsuch’s appointment to the court means an end to the deadlock the court has seen recently on pivotal constitutional issues, including forced unionization and issues regarding regulatory overreach. (Read more)

 

Education:

Late Thursday evening, Arizona Governor Doug Ducey signed a law expanding his state’s Educational Savings Account program to every public school child. The change, making the state’s ESA program “universal,” means that almost any public school student in Arizona will be eligible to apply. The new rules cap the number of new entrants into the program to roughly 5,500 new students each year — but effectively eliminates most other enrollment restrictions. With Nevada’s neighbor expanding their successful ESA program, it is now up to Silver State lawmakers to decide if they will follow suit, or continue clinging to a failed status quo. (Read more)

 

Free speech:

When governments fear dissent, they often try to censor those who speak out. When censorship doesn’t work, or isn’t an option, government often just settles for simple harassment and surveillance. As the National Review points out, “This was true in the civil-rights era, when the state of Alabama tried to force the NAACP to divulge its membership lists.” More recently, the State of New York decided to channel the bully-tactics of segregation-era Alabama, and has taken aim at organizations bold enough to speak out about gun rights, tax reform, climate change and a number of other public policy issues. A new challenge to New York’s complex web of regulations, however, hopes to put an end to this state-sponsored attempt at regulating public-policy debates. (Read more)

 

Healthcare:

The GOP’s first attempt to supposedly “repeal and replace” the Affordable Care Act went down in flames. But why? Well, for starters, the Republican plan failed to attract enough Republicans to survive any substantial debate in the legislature. More importantly, however, is the fact that it didn’t actually repeal or replace the core tenants of Obamacare — in fact, it preserved them. (Read more)

 

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Renewable Energy:

Assemblyman Justin Watkins, D-Las Vegas, has introduced Assembly Bill 270, legislation designed to reinstate net-metering subsidies for rooftop solar costumers. The proposed law would set a minimum credit of 11 cents per kilowatt hour for electricity fed back into a utility’s grid from a rooftop solar installation. The actual market price of power at the time — whether or not the utility company could purchase excess power from a cheaper source — is simply ignored. As NPRI has explained before, government coercion and price fixing — not necessarily the per-kilowatt price — is the real problem with net-metering mandates. (Read more)

 

Labor unions:

When public sector employees get paid leave-time to conduct union business, it costs taxpayers big time. According to a new report by the Office of Personnel Management, government employees spent nearly 3.5 million hours doing union business rather than government business — costing taxpayers $162.5 million in 2014 alone. (Read more)

 

Fiscal and taxes:

Tax season is officially here — and it’s costing the American economy billions of dollars. Taxpayers spend an estimated 6.1 billion hours and $234 billion every year complying with the tax code. And things are only expected to get worse. According to Pete Sepp, president of the National Taxpayers Union, “The paperwork burden inventory at the Office of Management and Budget related to Treasury is expected to rise by another two billion hours in the next few years.” That alone could push tax compliance costs above $400 billion per year. (Read more)

 

Free markets:

Nevada lawmakers this session are again taking aim at ridesharing companies such as Uber and Lyft. One bill would give the Nevada Taxicab Authority — which has been exceptionally hostile to the concept of ridesharing — authority over the industry. Another unfriendly proposal put forward by Taxicab Authority allies was to require ridesharing consumers to wait fifteen minutes for their ride. It was killed earlier this week. (Read more)

 

Education reform:

Large school districts, such as Clark County, have historically been plagued by inefficiencies, fraud and corruption. As it turns out, the primary root of the problem likely lies in the particular way in which schools have tried to lessen corruption: through ever-tighter layers of centralization, bureaucratic oversight, detailed standard operating procedures and a growing administrative state. Just like any other overly bureaucratic entity, the larger school districts become, the less responsive they are to the actual needs of those they serve. (Read more)

 

 

Analysis of SB384

Update: A proposed amendment makes Section 2 much worse by making PERS names private as well, leaving only payout amounts to unknown recipients! 

As written, section 1 of SB384 makes all information about public employees, with the exception of their name, job title and salary, confidential under state law. Existing law already provides robust protections that make sensitive information about public employees — such as social security numbers and home addresses — confidential. By declaring that, absent their name, job title and salary, “all other informationabout public employees is confidential, SB384 would represent a dramatic reversal of existing law by enshrouding the activities of government in a veil of secrecy.

Section 2 addresses retirees who are currently receiving a benefit from the Public Employees’ Retirement System of Nevada (PERS). By declaring that the name, benefit amount and last employer of those receiving a benefit from PERS is public and making everything else confidential, SB384 would significantly narrow existing law. Furthermore, it would make confidential the very information necessary to provide context to benefit amounts — such as years of service, year of retirement and retirement type.

Without those contextual fields of data, the public value in disclosing name and benefit amount is greatly reduced. Just as salary information is intertwined with the number of hours worked — the value of a $25,000 salary changes drastically if it comes with a 1-hour workweek instead of the standard 40 hours — a similar relationship exists between years of service and pension benefit amount.

This is why this information is currently public in Nevada and 35 other states nationwide. The State of New Jersey even publishes these supplemental fields, and several more, on the official state government website: https://data.nj.gov/dataset/YourMoney-Retired-Pension-Members/nma7-ti96/data.

As written, SB384 would overturn existing Nevada law and make these fields of data — which are necessary to lend perspective to the payout amounts and identify cases of disability fraud — confidential. Moreover, it is not clear what benefit, if any, this would provide. In fact, making the contextual data private would only undermine the public interest that SB384 seeks to provide in making retirees’ name and benefit amount public.

Or, to put it another way, why would years of service be considered more sensitive than a retiree’s name and benefit amount?

Existing law already makes truly sensitive information — such as social security number, home address, etc. — private. If SB384 seeks to reaffirm this, it can do so by specifying that the entirety of the necessary contextual elements of a retiree’s benefit are public, while then reaffirming the unrelated, sensitive pieces of information remain exempt from disclosure. 

SB384 will be heard March 31, 2017 at 1:00PM by the Senate Committee on Government Affairs. Click here to share your opinion with your legislator on SB384 or any other bill currently before the Legislature.

 

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Government regulation:

The taxicab union is lobbying lawmakers in hopes that the state will begin to crack down on ride-sharing companies like Uber and Lyft. Among other things, the union is pushing for regulations and restrictions that would essentially kill many of the features that make ride-sharing companies so attractive to consumers. For example, the union wants to impose a minimum “wait time” for pickups — meaning companies would be required to wait at least 10 minutes before picking up customers who have requested a ride. The union also wants lawmakers to prohibit “excessively low” pricing. (Read more)

 

Education:

Traditionally, Nevada lawmakers have been extremely reluctant to expand educational choice within the Silver State. Compared to Colorado or Arizona, for example, Nevada’s charter school program is positively anemic. And yet, strangely, the National Association of Charter School Authorities ranks Nevada highly. According to Matthew Ladner with Education News, the reason for this disparity is likely because NACSA’s rating seems “overly concerned with bureaucratic compliance rather than performance.” (Read more)

 

Asset forfeiture:

In 2009, the local police department in Tewksbury, Massachusetts used a federal rule to seize the property of a privately owned inn without even having to file criminal charges against its owners. Ostensibly, the seizure was part of the department’s crackdown on illegal drug operations. But that explanation didn’t make much sense to the owners of the Caswell Inn, given that a nearby motel was notorious for drug dealing and prostitution — and yet had remained untouched by authorities. When the owner asked a police official why they had targeted the inn instead of the seedy motel, the answer was brutally honest: the Caswell Inn was worth more money. (Read more)

 

Socialism:

“Democratic socialism” is a concept that has been increasing in popularity in America — particularly among younger voters. These voters describe socialism as some sort of utopian system, where poverty, hunger and even sickness are practically a thing of the past. Meanwhile, in countries that are actually afflicted by these policies, the public has a very different opinion. Ami Horowitz recently filmed a documentary in Venezuela to expose the horrors brought on by such policies. When asked what she thought about America’s admiration for socialism, one woman — waiting in line for several hours just to receive paltry rations — warned, “don’t commit to that madness.” (Read more)

 

Classical liberalism:

The problem with modern politics isn’t necessarily that different factions have competing concepts of governance — it’s that we’ve lost sight of the classical liberalism that gave rise to such astounding prosperity and progress. And it’s no wonder we’ve lost sight of it. Nearly every political faction has corrupted and manipulated classical liberalism to suit its own hunger for power and control. (Read more)

 

 

A note from the president

I am so grateful.

Grateful because I just walked into the Nevada Policy Research Institute from a gorgeous 70-degree Nevada day. Grateful to work with the most motivated, intelligent, passionate-about-freedom, doing-what-is-right, people I have ever met.

Why should you be grateful?

You live in this beautiful state and have NPRI’s brilliant staff working long hours fighting to preserve your rights and freedoms. You still do not have to pay state income taxes and have more freedoms than most states.

I have moved with my wife over 2000 miles to be a part of something bigger than myself. To help this exceptional band of believers in the good for all of limited constitutional government, accomplish even more.

NPRI’s policy shop, media centers, and the Center for Justice and Constitutional Litigation work tirelessly to:

  • Protect Educational Savings Accounts from defunding, so parents have hope for their children to choose a better education options.
  • Make Nevada government more transparent, so you the taxpayer can see where your money is being spent — and unfortunately wasted.
  • Fight cronyism by keeping those in power from rewarding their politically-connected friends with your hard-earned money.
  • Enforce the separation of powers within government so those who represent us are not also on the state payroll.
  • Protect the taxpayers with constant diligence against the implementation of a state income tax.
  • Use the courts to right the wrongs of unjust takings of your land or property by government.
  • Solve and save the government pension system (PERS) from mismanagement and abuse.
  • Give teachers the right to choose their representation.
  • And so much more.

 

As NPRI’s new President, I will stay grateful, using my past experiences to give my all to guide NPRI to further accomplishments on your behalf.

So stay grateful, and don’t take the beautiful weather, amazing vistas, or your freedoms for granted.

Sincerely,

 

John A. Tsarpalas
President
Nevada Policy Research Institute

 

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Nevada’s 79th Legislative Session:

This week, the Nevada Policy Research Institute unveiled its “Taxpayer’s Guide to the Legislative Session.” The guide will feature important bills, along with a short description of the impact of each and whether or not it promotes the interests of taxpayers. The guide’s bill evaluations will be an important factor in the creation of the Institute’s upcoming 2017 Legislative Report Card. As Mark Twain said, “no man’s life, liberty or property is safe when the legislature is in session!” Now taxpayers can see why Twain was so very correct. (Read more)

 

Government regulation:

Nevada lawmakers have had more than four hours of testimony and presentations over ways to clamp down on “payday lenders” in the state. The two bills being discussed would limit the interest rate applied to these short term loans, and create a statewide database to prohibit consumers from taking out multiple loans at one time. Both bills represent a large government intrusion into the private financial affairs of Nevada citizens. (Read more)

 

Fiscal and taxes:

Nevada State Senate President Pro Tempore Mo Denis, D-Las Vegas, has introduced a bill that would increase spending on public education by more than $1 billion. The proposal would increase per-pupil funding for special needs students, low income students and non-English speakers. Advocates claim the additional spending is needed in order to improve Nevada’s failing schools. Maybe, rather than throwing even more money into a system that has failed Nevada families for decades, lawmakers should consider empowering parents and students directly — by funding and implementing the state’s Education Savings Accounts. (Read more)

 

Partisan politics:

How does “Harry Reid International Airport” sound to you? If state Sen. Tick Segerblom has his way, that’s what McCarran International Airport would be called from now on. Senate Bill 174, which would authorize the name change, was slated for discussion Friday. An amendment has already been added to ensure that any name change be funded by private donations, and not taxpayer dollars. (Read more)

 

Healthcare:

Republicans have unveiled their plan to “repeal and replace” the Affordable Care Act — and yet, according to free-market critics, it looks far more like an effort to repackage rather than repeal. While the law institutes some important reforms to Obamacare, many of the regulatory burdens of the ACA will remain untouched. Judging by how reluctant lawmakers are to substantively take on Obamacare, it seems appropriate to paraphrase Ronald Reagan: “A government [entitlement program] is the nearest thing to eternal life we’ll ever see on this earth.” [Read more]

 

 

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