January 23, 2014 - 4:03 pm
One heckuva story is sitting inside the piles of data held by the Nevada Public Employees Retirement System. We know this because the agency that oversees the state’s pension fund is determined to hide that data from the public — so much so that it has defied a Nevada Supreme Court order to release information on the taxpayer funded benefits provided to government retirees.
For decades, PERS deemed beneficiary information confidential. Although the names and salaries of all Nevada government employees are public records, the moment they retired and began collecting a pension, they effectively vanished from the books. The media and the public had no way to investigate potential pension system problems because they couldn’t obtain data on individual benefits.
Across most of the country, where state pension benefits are public records, abuses and funding problems have been exposed, leading to many cost-saving reforms. In Nevada, we know PERS has unfunded liabilities of at least $10 billion — an enormous long-term burden on taxpayers that will be covered at the expense of other services — but not much else.
The Reno Gazette-Journal sued PERS over the agency’s refusal to release benefit records and won. But PERS refused to release benefit information pending an appeal to the Supreme Court. That appeal took almost two years, and in a November ruling, the high court upheld the District Court ruling that pension benefits are public records. So the Gazette-Journal, ruling in hand, demanded the records again: retiree names, their government employers, their hire and retirement dates, their final salaries and the amount of their pension benefits.
On Jan. 10, PERS asked a judge to deny the newspaper’s motion to compel the agency to produce the records. According to the newspaper, a PERS attorney acknowledged the information exists within several reports, and not exclusively within member files, as it had previously argued.
In other words, PERS is stalling.
PERS is not an apolitical bureaucracy. Its board is stacked with public employee union leaders who know some retiree benefits, if made public, are so rich the resulting public outrage could derail the gravy train for future retirees. They’ll delay the release of records as long as possible — past this year’s election, if possible.
A public agency is willfully disobeying the law. The District Court must order the release of the information and impose sanctions if PERS again refuses to do so. Let’s see what PERS is hiding.