weather icon Partly Cloudy

Think tank critical of state’s six-figure pensions

CARSON CITY — A conservative Nevada think tank on Tuesday released new public pension data for retired state and local government workers, finding that 1,605 retirees are collecting an annualized pension payout of at least $100,000.

The top payout went to former University of Nevada, Reno head football coach Chris Ault, who collected $278,497, data obtained by the Nevada Policy Research Institute shows.

The number of pensions exceeding five figures is an increase of 37 percent over last year, the institute said in a press release announcing the data’s publication.

The institute reports that after Ault, the next three highest payouts went to former Clark County worker Robert Taylor, $262,173; former Clark County Fire Department Battalion Chief Paul Calabrese, $259,372; and former Clark County Fire Department Battalion Chief Donald O’ Shaughnessy, $248,418.

The data was obtained from the Public Employees’ Retirement System, which had more than 103,000 active members through fiscal year 2015. There were 51,853 retired and disabled members and 6,306 more beneficiaries and survivors, the agency’s annual financial report showed.

Retirement system Executive Officer Tina Leiss said all benefit amounts are set by statute and are a function of years of service and salary paid by each government employer. The actual average benefits are far from the examples in the statement, she said.

For regular PERS members who are retired, the average annual pension in 2015 totaled $33,180 with an average retirement age of 66. For police and firefighter members, the average annual pension in 2015 was $59,532 with an average retirement age of 60, the retirement system’s report shows.

“The press release singles out seven individual benefit amounts out of over 55,000 beneficiaries,” Leiss said in an emailed response for comment. “These seven amounts are not representative of the total Nevada PERS retiree population, but all benefits are calculated in the same manner as set forth by Nevada law.”

Institute Transparency Director Robert Fellner said that at over $1.4 billion, retirement system costs for Nevada taxpayers and government workers equaled 12 percent of all state and local tax revenue combined in 2013 — the second-highest rate nationwide.

The Legislature is largely responsible for the burden being passed onto today’s government workers, he said.

“Shortsighted legislators passed extraordinary enhancements, whose costs will take decades to unwind,” Fellner said. “Today’s workforce is now required to pay for these mistakes in the form of larger payroll deductions and reduced benefits. As a result, all three stakeholders — employers, taxpayers and workers — would benefit from reform.”

The Nevada Legislature modestly changed the retirement system to reduce costs in 2009 and 2015. But a GOP lawmaker’s push to change the plan from a defined benefit pension plan to a defined contribution plan was rejected by lawmakers in the 2015 session despite Republican control in the Legislature for the first time in decades.

A defined benefit plan is a retirement account that promises a set payout when a worker retires. In a defined contribution plan, like a 401(k) or 403(b), workers and their employers can contribute but there is no set monthly benefit upon retirement.

In 2015, Senate Bill 406 established a minimum retirement age of 55 for regular public employees with 30 years of service, and raised the number of years to retire at any age to 33.3. The bill, which affected new hires starting July 1, 2015, also eliminated the ability to use purchased years of service to count toward retirement eligibility.

The Clark County School District is the largest government entity participating in the Public Employees’ Retirement System, with 29,596 cover employees in 2015. The state of Nevada was second with 14,770 followed by Clark County with 7,040.

The data are available for perusal at transparentnevada.com.

Contact Sean Whaley at swhaley@reviewjournal.com. Follow @seanw801 on Twitter.

Don't miss the big stories. Like us on Facebook.
VEA makes move to fulfill Pahrump community center commitment

The Nye County Commission has given the thumbs up to the letter of intent from Valley Electric Association outlining the cooperative’s desire to make good on promises made to the community by donating $5 million, plus necessary land, to construct a new community center in Pahrump.

Roundup focuses on Beatty burros

What do you do with too many burros? The U.S. Bureau of Land Management’s solution to that problem is to gather as many as possible and take them to holding facilities.

Nevada Assemblyman Hafen receives conservative achievement award

The American Conservative Union Foundation’s 2019 ratings have been released and top conservatives from the state of Nevada were honored with awards during the foundation’s recent inaugural CPAC West conference, hosted Sept. 13 in Reno.

Pahrump dealership addresses impact of national UAW strike

The Pahrump Valley Auto Plaza won’t run out of vehicles manufactured by General Motors Company anytime soon, as the strike that sent over 49,000 General Motors workers from the factory floor to the picket lines in mid-September continues.

Dan Simmons’ Sportsman’s quest: Exploring the Legends of the Lake

Nevada always has been the land of legends, mysteries and adventures. When it comes to fishing, it’s no different, as I discovered at Pyramid Lake, a short distance north of Reno.

Pahrump Senior Center to host rummage sale

Officials at the Pahrump Senior Center want the community to know that “one person’s clutter is another person’s treasure.”

Lauver, Kamien rule at Pahrump homecoming

The announcement of Pahrump Valley High School’s homecoming king and queen was taken very differently by the two winners who heard their names called at halftime of the Trojans’ football game against Boulder City on Sept. 13.

Circus delights crowd in Pahrump

Upward of 200 area residents took in the sights and sounds of the Jordan World Circus at McCullough Arena in Pahrump Sept. 14.

Man with knife arrested at Pahrump Valley High School

A Pahrump man is facing charges after allegedly brandishing a pocket knife while threatening several Pahrump Valley High School students in the parking lot of the campus.