Secretary of State and Assemblywoman oppose tapping PERS funds |

Secretary of State and Assemblywoman oppose tapping PERS funds

Geoff Dornan, Appeal Capitol Bureau

Secretary of State Dean Heller and the assemblywoman who sponsored legislation to protect public retirement funds on Thursday criticized a plan that would dip into retirement money to bring more business to Nevada.

Sen. Randolph Townsend, R-Reno, said last week he wants $200 million from the Public Employees Retirement System to create a venture capital fund, which would bring new business to Nevada and expand existing companies.

PERS has more than 100,000 members from the public sector including teachers, police, firemen, state and local government workers.

Assemblywoman Marcia deBraga, D-Fallon, co-authored the constitutional amendment passed by the Legislature in 1993 and 1995 specifically to stop politicians from taking any PERS money for special projects or programs.

“I find it hard to believe that any elected official in the state of Nevada would attempt in any way to divert funds from PERS for any pet project or to gamble the hard-earned money of those employees who rely upon PERS for their retirement,” she said.

Heller, who was in the Assembly at the time and voted for deBraga’s constitutional amendment, said the plan is not only a bad deal for public employees covered by the plan, but is “in direct contrast to the will of the voters.”

He said a resounding 73 percent of Nevadans followed the legislative action by passing the constitutional amendment in 1996.

“Clearly, the people of Nevada saw the inherent flaws in opening the Public Employees Retirement System to the type of political onslaught that occurs at the federal level to the Social Security and Medicare Trust funds,” he said.

That ballot question amended Nevada’s constitution to prohibit PERS from making loans to the state, investing in obligations of the state and putting PERS under control of the Retirement Board.

He said voters in 2000 followed that by rejecting an amendment that would have allowed investing state money in companies to assist economic development. That proposal failed by a 59-41 percent margin.

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Joe Neal said the idea of using state money to help private business is a bad idea, but not a new one.

“Nevada government is infested with corporate welfare programs, which heavily contribute to the state’s never-ending budget crisis,” he said.

He said if elected governor, he would veto any attempt to divert pension funds into business development and urged other candidates to declare their position on the issue as well.