Falsehoods, misinformation dominate PERS Secrecy Bill hearing

Robert Fellner

Last Friday, the Senate Government Affairs Committee held a hearing for the PERS Secrecy Bill (SB224).

The bill would overturn existing Nevada law by making secret the names of those who draw tax-funded public pensions. Proponents claim that making names secret is necessary to protect retirees from harm, despite four separate Nevada courts determining that there is no evidence to support that claim.

Bill sponsor Senator Julia Ratti and proponents dominated the hearings by asserting that SB224 is needed to protect retirees from the harm that would come from disclosing home address, social security number, birth certificate and myriad other forms of truly sensitive information. But all of that information is already confidential under existing law.

All SB224 actually does is make secret the names of those drawing tax-funded public pensions.

Sen. Ratti also asserted that the public has no right to this information because PERS is “like a private retirement account,” that is not funded by tax dollars.

But as PERS reminded the Legislature when it informed them of the need to raise rates earlier this year, PERS relies exclusively on tax dollars to make up its funding shortfalls.

If Ratti’s description of PERS were accurate, the system would not be capable of generating an unfunded liability. But as Moody’s Investors Services recently found, Nevada has some of the largest unfunded liabilities in the nation. Clark County School District, for example, ranked 2nd highest nationwide for pension debt as a percentage of revenue in their most recent survey:

The existence of unfunded liabilities reflects the fact that PERS is not like a private retirement account. Rather than making payments from a fixed pot of money, PERS benefits are guaranteed at a set amount to be paid for life. PERS collects contributions to fund part of the estimated cost, while hoping that investment returns generate enough profit to pay for the rest. When that doesn’t happen, the System generates an unfunded liability, which currently stands at over $13 billion.

Because the public is responsible for paying down the entirety of this shortfall, they have a legitimate right to pension payout data. Paying down that shortfall is why PERS has increased rates by nearly 50 percent over the past decade, while benefits have been cut for new hires.

NPRI presented legislative testimony at the hearing, which explains more about the importance of this information. You can read that testimony by clicking here.

 

Robert Fellner

Robert Fellner

Director of Policy

Robert Fellner is NPRI’s policy director and joined the Institute in December 2013. Robert has written extensively on the issue of transparency in government. He has also conducted legal research and assisted in crafting legal arguments for numerous public records-related lawsuits, including one which prevailed at the Nevada Supreme Court, resulting in a landmark decision that protected and expanded Nevadans’ rights to access and inspect government records.

An expert on government compensation and its impact on taxes, Robert has authored multiple studies on public pay and pensions. He has been published in Business Insider, Forbes.com, the Las Vegas Review Journal, the Los Angeles Times, RealClearPolicy.com, the San Diego Union-Tribune, the Wall Street Journal, ZeroHedge.com and elsewhere.

Robert has lived in Las Vegas since 2005 when he moved to Nevada to become a professional poker player. Robert has had a remarkably successfully poker career including two top 10 World Series of Poker finishes and being ranked #1 in the world at 10/20 Pot-Limit Omaha cash games.

Additionally, his economic analysis on the minimum wage won first place in a 2011 George Mason University essay contest. He also independently organized a successful grassroots media and fundraising effort for a 2012 presidential candidate, before joining the campaign in an official capacity.