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

Robert Fellner

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.

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.