The other side
Brendan Trainor’s March 2, 2017 “Time for Pension Changes” is so riddled with inaccuracies, falsehoods and half-truths that one would think he is describing California’s troubled public pension plan rather than Nevada’s extremely well-managed Public Employee Pension System.
Mr. Trainor objects to Nevada PERS’s legal opposition to disclosure of its members’ personal information, implying that a “secretive PERS” has something to hide. In fact, PERS publishes comprehensive investment and performance data on a regular basis, which can be found at www.nvpers.org/public/. PERS merely sees no good reason to publish retiree names along with the amount of the benefit received by each retiree, and I challenge Mr. Trainor to provide such a valid reason.
In fact, PERS is Nevada’s greatest asset and provides Nevada taxpayers a tremendous bang for their buck. Approximately 80 percent of PERS retirement benefits are provided by investment returns, the remaining 20 percent is funded by contributions split between public employers and employees. That means Nevada public employers are able to fund $10 in retirement benefits for every $1 they contribute to PERS.
Mr. Trainor falsely suggests that PERS investments are too risky and raises the tired bugaboo that PERS liabilities are “dangerously high.” He makes the absurd suggestion that it would be prudent for PERS to rely on the “safest” “30-year government bonds.” Any competent investment professional would advise Mr. Trainor that the actual “risk” to the fund would rise with the proportion of its assets invested in these low-yielding 30-year bonds—the perceived “safety” of government bonds is misleading since to choose them is to guarantee low returns. PERS invests about 28 percent of its assets in bonds, which provides a measure of stability without sacrificing the superior returns provided by stocks, which represent about 62.5 percent of fund assets. The keys to long term investment success are broad diversification and even more importantly, minimizing costs such as management fees, both of which PERS does with spectacular success. As of June 30, 2016, Nevada PERS was 74.1 percent funded and is working toward 100 percent funding status over approximately 15 years. This can be likened to a homeowner purchasing a home with a mortgage and is no cause for alarm. In fact, the PERS “fund’s annualized rate of return is 9.4 percent since inception (32 years) versus the long-term actuarial funding objective of 8.2 percent.” (http://bit.ly/2nHaxVh)
Mr. Trainor makes the irresponsible suggestion that “the ideal would be to convert the pension system from defined benefits to defined contributions like most ordinary citizens have.” In fact, such a conversion would be a tragic disaster. Nothing is more directly responsible for the widespread poverty among elders and the looming American retirement crisis than the unfortunate replacement of defined benefit pensions with 401Ks in corporate America. Nevada PERS is not part of the problem but rather part of the solution and Nevadans should zealously protect PERS in its present form as their greatest asset.