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State employee benefits may get cut

RENO — A panel formed by Nevada Gov. Jim Gibbons to reduce government waste is considering major reductions in state employee health and retirement benefits.

At a meeting Friday in Reno, the Spending and Government Efficiency Commission considered changes to the Public Employee Benefits Program and Public Employees Retirement System.

Among other things, the panel discussed a proposal that would require state employees to be at least 60 years of age before they could begin collecting pension benefits. Employees currently can retire at any age after working a certain minimum number of years.

The plan would have the biggest impact on police and fire employees, who now can retire after 20 years of service and at an average age of less than 55.

The commission, headed by former U.S. Printer Bruce James, also considered a proposal that would reduce the rate at which retirement benefits would accrue for state employees.

Employees currently accrue credits of 2.67 percent for each year they were on the job.

Under that formula, employees with 20 years of service get about half of the salary they received during their highest three years of state earnings as a pension. A lower rate would reduce the final pension.

The commission also considered proposals that would require employees to pay more for health insurance.

Former state Budget Director Perry Comeaux urged the commission to consider treating lower-income employees differently than highly paid employees.

No action was taken on any of the proposals.

James said the proposed changes to retirement and health benefits would have to be much more thoroughly reviewed before final recommendations are sent to the governor.

The goal of the SAGE Commission is to come up with money-saving ideas that will work rather than wind up in a long report “that sits on a shelf and collects dust,” Gibbons has said.

The panel was modeled after former President Reagan’s Grace Commission that in 1984 produced nearly 2,500 ideas for cutting government waste, but saw disappointing results.

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