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Nevada public pensioner votes to keep his pension secret

In 2015, Sen. David Parks, D-Las Vegas, drew a taxpayer-backed pension of $103,947. Last week, Parks voted to keep you from finding out how much he will bank in the future.

I told you three weeks ago about the efforts of Sen. Julia Ratti, D-Sparks, to gut Nevada’s public records law with Senate Bill 384. While she has amended the bill to remove the section that would have prohibited you from finding out the names of school teachers, she now wants to prevent you from finding out the names of those drawing lavish pension payouts.

SB384 would make the names of retirees confidential, instead mandating the Public Employees’ Retirement System release a unique identifying number for each employee along with payout information.

Ratti said retirees need her bill so they won’t have “to live in fear of identity theft.” What she didn’t share is how PERS’ stonewalling led to the release of the very information retirees claim to be worried about.

In 2011, the Reno Gazette-Journal asked PERS for retiree names, payouts and retirement dates. PERS refused, claiming the requested information was only in employee files, and fought in court for years. PERS finally admitted it did have the requested information outside of employee files. The Supreme Court ruled PERS had to turn over a document sent to its actuary, which included names, pension amounts, years of service, but also birth dates.

But the Gazette-Journal never requested birth dates. It was only because of PERS’ obstruction and unwillingness to do 5 minutes of work in Excel that the Supreme Court had to mandate PERS release the full actuary document. If Ratti really wanted to stop identity theft, she would make birth dates confidential.

Instead, “identity theft” has become a fig leaf used to achieve what public retirees really want — keeping their names off of TransparentNevada.com, the website run by my former colleagues at the Nevada Policy Research Institute. Parks is just one of over 1,600 public retirees pocketing over $100,000 a year for life — a list that also includes Sen. Joyce Woodhouse, D-Henderson, who collected $108,434 in 2015. Many retirees don’t like the public seeing six-figure tax-funded payouts.

SB384 is like telling your boss that it’s OK for him or her to see what the company pays out in salaries, but he or she can’t see which employee makes what. You’d be laughed out of the room, but SB384 passed out of Senate Government Affairs without dissent.

Too often politicians and public employees forget that they work for the people, not the other way around. It’s our money, and you and I have the right to see how it’s spent and who it goes to.

Victor Joecks’ column appears in the Nevada section each Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Contact him at vjoecks@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4698. Follow @victorjoecks on Twitter.

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