Tag Archives: Nevada Public Employees

Spooks, Haunts, and other Scary Things in the Nevada Legislature

Nevada Legislature Scary Things

The GOP controlled Nevada Legislature is haunted. Specters and spooks dog the steps of the members of the Assembled Wisdom, wraiths point toward things of which we must be afraid, very afraid.

We must be afraid of voter impersonation fraud.  The fact that it hasn’t happened doesn’t mean that we ought not to writhe in terror at the prospect.  Speaking of ghosts of elections past, we have Sharron Angle to add her wail to the cries of alarm:

“Former Assemblywoman Sharron Angle, who lost the 2010 U.S. Senate race to Harry Reid, testified for the bill, saying “we do have a voter impersonation problem across the country.”  Anderson asked if she has found examples of voter impersonation in Nevada in her investigations. Angle said no, but that there is “anomalous activity that goes on in Nevada elections that is not easily explained.” [LVRJ]

One might reasonably guess that “anomalous activity” is one of those terms which might be analogous to the Spectral Evidence allowed in the Salem Witch Trials?   However, we might just as well place this within the glossary of meaningless phrases, which while sounding erudite, mean almost nothing, such as “stocks are down on profit taking,” or “there’s lots of cash on the sidelines.” [Ritholtz] Or, such unverifiable and empty notions like “highway miles.”  Or, those gratuitous and equally meaningless phrases which appear in job opening announcements, “self starter,” “team player,” and “highly qualified.”

The point being is that bills like SB 169 (photo ID) are necessary to solve the Republican problem of not being able to win elections if lower income, non-white, young people, and the elderly are allowed to vote.

We must be very afraid of criminals.  Not only must we quake in alarm, according to the GOP Gun Club we must arm ourselves and await the day when we will be called upon to open fire on the evil-doers in our midst. Unfortunately, this serves to remind us that one person who tried this at the Las Vegas Wal-Mart ended up as a victim. [SFgate] No matter, by the lights of the Gun Club we must all be allowed to carry concealed weapons – anywhere – unless maybe not on school grounds.  (AB 148) 

As of 2013 there were 2,790,236 people in the state of Nevada.  There were 16,496 violent crimes reported.  We should put this in some perspective.  First, if we divide the number of violent crimes (victims) by the total population the result is 0.00591.  Shift the decimal to create a percentage and we have 0.59%. [TDC]  Is the likelihood of victimization in a violent crime in Nevada so high that all the dangers associated with carrying a concealed weapon worth the effort? Secondly, there were 163 murders, 1,090 rapes, 5,183 robberies, and 10,060 assaults in Nevada as of the 2013 reporting period.  [TDC]   The numbers don’t suggest a need for a proliferation of arms among ordinary citizens.

But but but… What if the criminals think there will be armed opposition to their nefarious endeavors! That will prevent them from carrying out their heinous designs! Really?  The armed robber already has his or her gun in position, ready to fire. The gun in my purse or holster is going to take a moment to get “into position.” Thus, the obvious outcome is that the robber gets the money, and the firearm.  Then there is the “collateral damage” consideration.  What if the “burglar” isn’t a criminal after all, but some family member who has lost a key?  In public spaces, how does Our Concealed Carry Hero determine if another Concealed Carry Hero is, or is not, a perpetrator of the shooting? The questions go on, but the bottom line is that in the fanciful world of the gun enthusiasts every hero can make practical decisions at 2 in the morning, make every shot count, and insure that every shot is aimed at and will hit the criminal.  It’s a scenario right out of the made for TV melodramas. Legislation should be crafted upon a foundation of facts and rationality, not the fevered imaginings of the frightened.

We must be afraid that someone somewhere is taking money away from us, and that every accumulation of government revenue is robbery, and every public service employee is unworthy.  Those comfortably ensconced in the upper 0.01% of income earners may very well be able to buy all the books they want (therefore there is no need for public libraries) or to spend a vacation on a private island or in a private resort (therefore there is no need for any public parks), and they may elect to spend money on private security, or pay for service firefighting, or pay the tolls on roads and highways, or send the kids to private schools.  When money is no object, other people’s money is little more than a object of attraction. 

Unfortunately, the upper 0.01% has been effective over the last three decades in convincing ordinary people earning $50,000 per year that a public school beginning teacher earning $37,000 is a Pig At The Public Trough.  The median wage of an employee of the State of Nevada is currently $46,590.  Hardly a figure, when agency heads are included, to describe an opulent living.   Yet, public employees are taking fire in this edition of the Legislature.

However, it’s not just the public sector employees who are drawing the attention of the Needy Greedy.   State Senator Joe Hardy (R-Boulder City) wants to repeal the state’s minimum wage.  Hardy’s SJR 6 (pdf) would repeal Nevada’s minimum wage provisions and let the legislature determine if an employer is providing health insurance if the cost is not more than 10% of the employee’s gross taxable income.  Here’s a thought – How about, instead of allowing more employers to pay less than $8.25 per hour, Nevada enacted an increase in the minimum wage? Period.

Want to see fewer people have to rely on housing subsidies to keep roofs over their heads? Raise the minimum wage.  Want to see fewer people have to resort to the SNAP programs? – raise the minimum wage. Want to see fewer individuals have to avail themselves of Medicaid assistance? Raise the minimum wage. 

For too many years we’ve been told the people (including the disabled and the elderly) aren’t working hard enough.  They should get more education (despite the costs and time involved), get more gumption (this in the face of a 5% multi-job rate), work more hours… take individual responsibility!  This is all lovely palaver from the heights, the concepts tend to disintegrate when applied in the real world.  The question could as easily be reversed. For example, the Las Vegas Sands Corporation, with sales and revenue reported as $14.58 billion in 2014, and net income of $2.84 billion, couldn’t spring for more than a paltry $8.25 per hour?  The question ought to be why can’t employers pay more than $10.10 per hour, or a living wage of $15.00?

In the real world most employers do pay more than the minimum already.  Minimum wage workers comprise about 4.7% of the total employed workforce.  The chart shows national trends for minimum wage workers:

Minimum Wage workers

“Leisure and Hospitality,” where have we seen that category before? L&H is the largest employer in the state, accounting for approximately 398,000 jobs earning an average annual wage of $31,600 (net of benefits.)  So, here we sit in a state in which most employees are engaged by a sector most likely to pay earnings at or below the federal minimum wage – and we can’t figure out that those who need housing or SNAP assistance might not fall into those categories if the wages were increased? So, let’s ask again: Why are Nevada employers unwilling to pay wages which would support their employees above the rate at which they are eligible for public assistance?

There are some things about which we should be legitimately concerned, those just don’t seem to have made it into the consciousness of the Legislature’s majority. Here are two examples:

Nevada has an income inequality problem.

“The states in which all income growth between 2009 and 2012 accrued to the top 1 percent include Delaware, Florida, Missouri, South Carolina, North Carolina, Connecticut, Washington, Louisiana, California, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Idaho, Massachusetts, Colorado, New York, Rhode Island, and Nevada.” [EPI] (emphasis added)

This situation is economically unsustainable.  As middle income and lower income earners tighten their belts and shave their budgets, there are simply not enough high income earners to create the demand for goods and services over time.

Nevada has infrastructure issues.  Only in the categories of waste water and solid waste does the state of Nevada get a ‘good’ grade, a B, from the ASCE.  We seem to be handling the excremental elements of our state rather better than our school buildings and our dams.

If the Legislature can move past Guns Galore!, Labor Bashing, and Vote Suppressing, we might want to address these and other pressing issues in the Silver State.

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Filed under Crime Rates, Gun Issues, Nevada economy, Nevada legislature, Nevada politics, Vote Suppression, Voting

If It Ain’t Broke, Whack It Anyway: “Pension reform” in Nevada

NV Retirement ALEC Back on July 21, 2014 Nevada Assemblyman Randy Kirner (R-26) ask for the drafting of a bill to create an interim task force to examine alternatives to the Nevada Public Employees Retirement System. (BDR 184)  A more useless bit of legislation isn’t quite imaginable.  Unless, of course, one has in mind the ultimate goal of changing the system from a defined benefit plan to a defined contribution plan. 

If this is the case, then it is right out of the ALEC playbook, which offers model legislation for this purpose.  The corporate interest group also offers model legislation in case the state decides to retain its defined benefit plan.  The defined contribution plan is a notion the Koch supported NPRI has been promoting since at least 2011.  The ‘solution’ was proposed again in 2013 in NPRI’s handbook for legislators. (pdf)  ALEC, the corporate bill mill, waded into these waters again in 2014 with its recommendations from the Public Pension Reform Working Group. (pdf) It might be of some interest to note that the private chair of the task force was held by Amanda Klump, of Altria Client Services, (that would be promoting the interests of the tobacco giant, which used to call itself Philip Morris.

A quick look at a 2014 publication of pertinent facts about state and municipal pension funds (pdf) and information on Nevada’s system from NASRA, should put one’s mind to rest, unless the unsettled portion is still churning through the misinformation and misleading conclusions drawn from publications of ALEC, the Altria Group, NPRI, and the Koch Brothers organizations.

One bill draft request, #185, from Assemblyman Kirner has made it to the light of day in the form of AB 3. Assemblyman Kirner’s effort would increase the size of the PERS Board to nine members, and three of whom would be individuals who: “have specified experience relating to the design or management of retirement plans; (2) are not employees of the State or its political subdivisions; (3) are not elected officers of the State or its political subdivisions; and (4) have never been active members of the System.”  Thus, there would NOT be a member of the board who is an employee of the state of Nevada or one of its political subdivisions,  is serving in a management position,  has 10 years of service, is not an elected official, and is not an active member.  In short – Assemblyman Kirner would remove the individual board member who has a direct interest in the positive outcomes of any policy decisions and replace the individual with three board members who are ‘technocrats,’ serving from the financial sector perspective. How convenient?

Assemblyman Kirner is evidently not pleased with a PERS board consisting of a former CFO of the City of Las Vegas, two members from the Police and Firefighters Retirement Fund Advisory Committee, a chief accountant with the department of Transportation, a former Clark County Budget Manager, a former Director of Payroll and Benefits from the Clark County School District, and a representative from SEIU.  Perhaps there are too many members who might have questions about turning the defined benefits system into a defined contribution scheme?

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Filed under Nevada budget, Nevada economy, Nevada politics

ALEC Inspired Assault On Public Employee Retirement in the Nevada Legislature

Nevada Legislature BuildingA bill introduced in the Nevada Assembly, AB 342, (pdf) should be carefully watched.  Once more the Public Employees Retirement System is under assault from ALEC inspired Republican interests in, transforming PERS from a defined benefit system to a defined contribution system.  In the case of AB 342 there’s a gimmick.  The bill would create a hybrid system for those who are hired after July 1, 2014, including the creation of a defined contribution individual trust account paid into by the employer (at a 6% rate.)

The first, and the most obvious, reason to oppose this bill is that We Don’t Need It.  RPEN reports “Due to careful management, PERS’ unfunded liability has decreased recently and the system’s assets have grown to a record $28.6 billion which speaks to this time-tested system’s viability.”   [Review, April 2013]

Why would anyone think we do need to change the PERS system from a defined benefit to a defined contribution, or in the case of AB 342, some kind of hybridization?

The “privatization” of public employee retirement has been a common motif of narratives spun by conservative organizations, among which ALEC is one of the most notable.

“The solution to the funding crises in state pension plans will require fundamental reform. Everything should be on the table, including changes in benefits and increased employee contribution rates, as well as employer contribution rates. These plans should consider replacing their defined benefit plans with defined-contribution plans for new employees.” [ALEC]

First, ALEC and related organizations would like us to believe that Public Employee Pensions are IN CRISIS! Crisis, I Say!   However, even if we revert to the wake of the last financial meltdown the situation nationally (and in Nevada) was not quite so alarming as the advocates of defined contribution plans would have us believe.

Information from the GAO should have been reassuring back in that day:

“Government Accountability Office said last summer, “our analysis shows that state and local governments on average would need to increase pension contribution rates to 9.3 percent of salaries— less than .5 percent more than the 9.0 percent contribution rate in 2006 to achieve healthy funding on an ongoing basis.”  Divided between employees and employers in whatever way negotiated, this is hardly an earth-shaking departure from the status quo.” [PS.org]

In short, the logic in the aftermath of the financial collapse was that defined benefit plans for public employees were in crisis because there was a down turn in the value of their investments and therefore the plans should be transformed into defined contribution plans which place retirement accounts in greater jeopardy during times of financial market volatility.  If this doesn’t make sense to you give yourself a Big Gold Star — because it doesn’t.

Secondly, the push toward defined contribution plans, or some variations thereon, obfuscates the result — that the defined contribution plans mean lower benefits for retirees and more expenses for the state to maintain the program. [FLPE]

There have been some analytical studies to support this conclusion, (using DC to mean defined contribution, and DB to mean defined benefits):

Generally, the reports found that the DC plans carried a higher price-tag than maintaining the current DB systems. In both the Michigan and New Hampshire reports, the proposed employer DC contribution rates were scored to be comparably higher than the normal DB cost. The studies cite that higher costs derive primarily from administrative costs – whether they are outsourced to a third-party or expanded internally, legal and consulting fees assumed by public pension fund handlers, and additional operating costs.  [FLPE]

Thus, moving from a defined benefit plan to a defined contribution plan primarily augments the coffers of the administrators, legal consultants, and fund managers — not the state or the retired state employees.   If defined contribution plans are more beneficial to Wall Street, then who benefits from the defined benefit plans?

We do. There is evidence of this:   Traditional defined benefit plans reduce employee turnover and aid in employee recruitment. They pay higher benefits at lower administrative costs than the DC plans.  The benefits are expended in local communities adding to their economies.  Individuals with predictable incomes tend to contribute more to the economy as consumers.  [SDCERA]

AB 342 is not a particularly useful addition to the fiscal discussions in the Nevada Assembly.  We don’t need it. It won’t save anyone any more money — and may, in fact, end up costing the state more.  Nor will it serve to do anything more than line the pockets of those wonderful people who brought us the Financial Meltdown of 2008 — who now want public employee retirement accounts to add to their funds to gamble in the Wall Street Casino.  The bill should be watched — from a distance — in what ever dark and hidden corner it now resides.

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Filed under labor, public employees