Nevada Legislature: Retiree benefit cuts ‘draconian’ | NevadaAppeal.com

Nevada Legislature: Retiree benefit cuts ‘draconian’

State retirees crowded hearing rooms in Carson City and Las Vegas Wednesday, asking lawmakers to reject the governor’s proposed cuts to their benefit subsidies.

Speakers in Carson City representing employee groups pointed out plan members already had taken a $50 million hit as their share of budget cuts before the governor decided to reduce state support from 90 percent of premiums to 75 percent for actives and to cut in half or eliminate subsidies for retiree groups.

“I feel the retirees and actives have given their pound of flesh and can’t afford to give up another two pounds,” said Roger Maillard, representing retiree members of the American Federation of Municipal, County and State Employees.

The crowd was unanimously opposed to the reductions. When Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford, D-Las Vegas, chairman of the Senate Finance/Assembly Ways and Means joint subcommittee, asked for any speakers in favor of the governor’s plan, no one among the more than 100 who turned out raised a hand.

Leslie Johnstone, director of the Public Employees Benefits Program, said the proposed budget constitutes a 21 percent reduction to active state employees but a 60 percent reduction for retirees.

For retirees, she said, the 25 percent cut in the subsidy retirees get would raise their premium cost $81 a month for a single retiree and $155 for a couple next year.

Under the governor’s plan, the subsidy for retirees would be cut another 25 percent in the second year of the biennium, doubling that hit.

She said the most dramatic effect would be to Medicare-eligible retirees and those who retire in the future since the governor’s proposal eliminates their subsidy effective July 1. That applies not only to those retiring next year but to all those who have already retired.

Jim Richardson, representing the Nevada Faculty Alliance, said that plan is “punitive to employees who are already retired.”

He predicted a flood of retirees before July 1 to beat the deadline and keep at least some of their benefits subsidy.

“If you don’t retire then, why should you retire ever?” he asked. “If you’re going to lose your health benefits if you retire, why not just keep working and die at your desk and be carried out in a pine box?”

Several of those who testified used the word “draconian,” including Dennis Mallory, representing American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.

“We are attacking a very vulnerable group in our society,” he said of retirees.

Marty Bibb, representing the Retired Public Employees of Nevada, termed the proposals “a high speed U-turn that affects an awful lot of lives.”

He also said it devalues long-term service.

Bibb also pointed out that, over the years, people covered by the state plan traded better benefits for immediate salary increases. To take those benefits away, he said, would be unfair.

“A lot of these retirees cannot turn back the clock and return to work,” he said.

Terry Hickman, representing the Nevada State Education Association, said thousands of teachers retired knowing they would have that subsidy to make it possible to keep benefits in their old age. He too said changing the rules now was a draconian change.

He was followed by retired teacher Sandy Curtis, who said: “To balance this budget on the backs of those who need it most is just unconscionable.”

“We need to know three things,” said Sen. Dean Rhoads, R-Tuscarora, summing up the meeting. “How do we fix it, what’s it going to cost and where do we get the money.”

– Contact reporter Geoff Dornan at gdornan@nevadaappeal.com or 687-8750.