PERS hearing draws no fire over premium increase

The Public Employees Retirement System presented on Thursday its budget before the Senate Finance Committee.

However, not a single question was raised about the 2.25 percent premium increase approved by the PERS Board.

The increase raises the total premium to 28 percent of pay for regular public workers.

Rate setting decisions are up to the independent PERS board, not the governor or Legislature.

The cost is going to be split 50-50 between the employees and employers who are members of PERS. That effectively reduces the take home pay of state workers by 1.15 percent.

The only one to raise that issue was Kevin Ranft of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees who said that reduction would be a significant “hit” to the paychecks of state workers — especially younger, single mothers who don’t make large amounts of money.

Ranft told the committee he understands the actuarial studies that make the increase necessary on behalf of the plan but state workers have been hurt repeatedly during the recession.

“We never see a pay increase for state employees,” said Ranft, a former corrections officer.

He urged committee members to go back in time over the past decade and look at how much state workers have lost — including to inflation since they haven’t received a pay raise in six or more years.

The only response was from Finance chairman Sen. Ben Kieckhefer, R-Reno, who represents Carson City.

“This does not fall on deaf ears, I promise,” he said.

The state’s share will cost state government about $10 million a year. But the increase applies to all local governments and school districts as well — a total of about 88,700 members.

In addition, there are about 11,800 members who are classified police/fire. Their PERS rate, which is set independently of all other members, is not going to not increase in the coming two years.

PERS Director Tina Leiss told the committee the average retired state worker now receives a monthly benefit of just more than $2,700.

She said her proposed budget includes only one major item — the addition of an in-house General Counsel who would reduce the system’s reliance on the attorney general’s office and outside litigation lawyers.

She said that position would provide daily advice to her staff on legal issues that have grown in number and complexity as PERS has grown. She said Nevada is one of the rare public pension systems in the U.S. that doesn’t have its own General Counsel. The total cost would be about $372,000 over the biennium.

The committee took no action.

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