The Nevada Public Employees' Retirement System has told its retirees that it will soon begin complying with the state Supreme Court’s view of the Nevada Public Records Act, Nevada Journal has learned.

As a result, NVPERS says it will be releasing a host of information, including much more detail on retiree benefit amounts and starting and ending dates of employment.

Earlier this year NVPERS released limited information including retiree name and monthly pension payout in response to a Nevada Supreme Court ruling which found that NVPERS pension records are public information.

This appears to conclude a more-than-three-year legal fight, begun over a January 19, 2011, public-records request the Reno Gazette-Journal filed with PERS requesting pension records, including retiree names, payout information and work history details.

“PERS is legally bound to provide this information to the RGJ as all legal avenues have been extinguished,” the agency told retirees in the newsletter.

PERS said it is under instruction from Nevada First Judicial District Court Judge James T. Russell, following an April hearing on implementation of a Nevada Supreme Court order issued last December.

That order followed the high court’s decision a month earlier, saying that, while individual retirees’ files are confidential, information and reports based on those files are not.

Consequently, the data that PERS sends to its hired actuary firm, which determines retirement benefits, must be released, as it is a Nevada public record under the law.

The information in those data “feeds,” says PERS in its newsletter, includes:

date of hire, date of termination, date of retirement, retirement option, employer, contributions, service credit, beneficiary information, gross benefit amount, base retirement amount, adjustments to base, post retirement increase amount, pending beneficiary flag, retirement stop date and reason, marital status, fund status, and gender.

Under Nevada public records law, personal information remains confidential. Thus, PERS emphasized, it “will NOT release any Social Security numbers, contact information (addresses, phone numbers, or email addresses), bank information, or minor child information.”

Also under the order, PERS must continue releasing its monthly payment register, which includes the names of all retirees along with their monthly benefit amount.

The agency described the “actuarial data feed,” which now is to be made public, as “an extensive report always thought to be confidential between the System and our actuarial consultant protected through a confidentiality agreement which has now been determined in part to be public information.”

That data-feed information is vital if researchers are “to build a clear understanding about how public pension liabilities have accrued in Nevada," said Geoffrey Lawrence, director of research and legislative affairs at the Nevada Policy Research Institute.

“Highly prominent economists from across the political spectrum have criticized many of the accounting assumptions used by public-sector pension plans and called for substantive reforms that would replace the current actuarial practice with market-based accounting. 

“There is no more clear indication of the fact that PERS actuarial assumptions are problematic,” said Lawrence, “than the fact that the system has exceeded its expected rate of return in some years and still seen its funded ratio decline.  In FY13, for instance, the system realized a 12.4 percent return on investments—more than 50 percent greater than the assumed return of 8 percent—and still saw its funded ratio decline from 71.0 percent to 69.3 percent.  These figures make it clear that knowledgeable Nevadans need to gain access to the underlying figures in order to conduct analyses that can further enlighten the public-policy debate concerning PERS governance and accounting methods. 

“PERS’ unfunded liability has grown from $4.6 billion to $12.9 billion over the past decade and the annual payments required to service this growing debt are beginning to cripple Nevada’s cities and counties.  This financial threat to the fiscal health of Nevada governments should create an immediate imperative for PERS to open its books to the public.”

Steven Miller is managing editor of Nevada Journal and senior vice president of the Nevada Policy Research Institute. For more, visit NevadaJournal.com.