Public pensions in Nevada

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Nevada public pensions
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Pension system
Number of pension systems 3
State pension systems: Public Employees' Retirement System
Judicial Retirement System
Legislators' Retirement System
System type: Defined benefit plan
Pension health (2012)[1]
Fund value: $27,466,740,400
Estimated liabilities: $38,703,610,600
Unfunded liabilities : $11,236,870,200
Percent funded: 70.97%
Percent funded change: Decrease.svg1.63%[2][3]
Percent funded rank: 23[4]
Pension fund members (2012)
Total members: 161,331
Active members: 98,650
Other members: 62,681
Other state pension information
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Public pensions
State public pension plans
Public pension health by state
Nevada public pensions are the state mechanism by which state and local government employees in Nevada receive retirement benefits and are organized into three separate systems: the Public Employees' Retirement System of Nevada (PERS), the Judicial Retirement System (JRS), and the Legislators' Retirement System (LRS). The Public Employees’ Retirement System provides retirement and disability benefits to state workers as well as other public employees. Participation in PERS is mandatory for public employees and provides retirement portability for persons in government service. The PERS provides a tax-qualified defined benefit plan for public employees in Nevada and is a consolidated system with two sub-funds ("Regular" and "Police and Firefighters’ Retirement Fund") that are pooled for investment purposes.

According to the United States Census Bureau, the state has no locally-administered pension systems.[5]

A 2012 report from the Pew Center on the States noted that Nevada's pension system was funded at 70 percent at the close of fiscal year 2010, below the 80 precent funding level experts recommend. Consequently, Pew designated the state's pension system as cause for "serious concern."[6]

Taken together, the funding ratio for the state's pension systems decreased from 77.30 percent in fiscal year 2007 to 70.97 percent in fiscal year 2012, a drop of 6.33 percentage points, or 8.2 percent. Likewise, unfunded liabilities increased from approximately $6.3 billion in fiscal year 2007 to $11.2 billion in fiscal year 2012.


Pension plans

In fiscal year 2012, according to the PERS, JRS and LRS Comprehensive Annual Financial Reports (CAFRs), Nevada had a total of 98,650 active members in its retirement plans.[7] There were 62,508 other members. Our membership figures divide plan participants into two broad categories: active and other. Active members are current employees contributing to the pension system. Other members include retirees, beneficiaries and other inactive plan participants (usually terminated employees entitled to benefits but not yet receiving them).[8]

The following data was collected from the PERS, JRS and LRS 2012 CAFRs, which measured fund status as of June 30, 2012. The "percentage funded" is calculated by taking the current value of the fund and dividing by the estimated amount of total liabilities. The assumed rate of return used to calculate current fund value was 8 percent in 2012.[7][9][10]

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) and Pew Research Centers cite a percent funded ratio of 80 percent as the minimum threshold for a healthy fund, though the American Academy of Actuaries suggests that all pension systems "have a strategy in place to attain or maintain a funded status of 100 percent or greater.[11][12]

The column labeled "SBS figure" refers to a market liability calculation of the fund by the nonprofit organization State Budget Solutions. This analysis uses a rate of return of 3.225 percent, which is based upon the 15-year Treasury bond yield. The organization calls this a "risk-free" rate of return that would make it easier for states to achieve their pension funding requirements in the future. Since 2006, all private sector corporate pension plans have incorporated market costs into their funding schemes.[13]

Basic pension plan information -- Nevada
Plans Current value Percentage funded Unfunded liabilities Membership
State figure SBS figure[14] State figure SBS figure[14]
Public Employees Retirement System[7] $27,399,000,000 71% N/A[15] $11,205,900,000 N/A[15] 98,512 active members
Judicial Retirement System[9] $63,934,200 68.6% $29,198,600 99 active members
Legislators' Retirement System[10] $3,806,200 68.2% $1,771,600 39 active members
TOTALS $27,466,740,400 70.97% 36% $11,236,870,200 $48,468,165,000 98,650 active members

Annual Required Contribution

Annual Required Contributions (ARC) are calculated annually and are a sum of two different costs. The first component is the "normal cost," or what the employer owes to the system in order to support the liabilities gained in the previous year of service. The second component is an additional payment in order to make up for previous liabilities that have not yet been paid for. According to a report by the Pew Center on the States, in 2010, Nevada paid 93.04 percent of its annual required contribution.[6][16]

On June 25, 2012, the Government Accounting Standards Board (GASB) approved a plan to reform the accounting rules for state and local pension funds. These revised standards were set to take effect in fiscal years 2013 and 2014.[17] As a result, ARCs were removed as a reporting requirement. Instead, plan administrators and accountants will use an actuarially determined contribution or a statutory contribution for reporting purposes.[18]

ARC historical data[7][9][10]
Fiscal year PERS JRS LRS
Annual Required Contribution (ARC) Percentage contributed Annual Required Contribution (ARC) Percentage contributed Annual Required Contribution (ARC) Percentage contributed
2012 $1,385,146,612 96% $5,892,200 104.0% $182,100 100%
2011 $1,430,455,811 88% $6,021,300 93.1% $182,100 100%
2010 $1,389,557,600 92% $5,795,200 91.0% $200,900 100%
2009 $1,340,547,600 90% $4,342,900 105.3% $200,900 100%
2008 $1,258,670,900 93% $3,901,400 107.1% $185,400 100%

Historical funding levels

Historical pension plan data -- all systems
Year Value of assets Accrued liability Unfunded liability Funded ratio
2007 $21,419,893,700 $27,708,354,800 $6,336,739,000 77.30%
2009 $24,045,047,700 $33,119,194,000 $9,132,453,700 72.60%
Change from 2007-2009 $2,625,154,000 $5,410,839,200 $2,795,714,700 -4.70%
System totals only calculated for years in which each system produced a valuation report.

Rate of return

PERS, JRS and LRS presume an 8 percent return rate on their pension investments.[7][9][10]


According to a 2012 analysis by the Pew Center for the States, most state pension plans assume an 8 percent rate of return on investments.[19] Critics assert that this assumption is unrealistic, citing changing market conditions and significantly lower investment returns across the board over the past several years.[20] When states lower the rate of return in an effort to predict investment earnings accurately, it increases the current plan liabilities, thereby lowering the percent funded ratio and causing the ARC to increase. This is because future plan liabilities are discounted based on the rate of return, so smaller expected investment returns result in larger actuarially accrued liabilities.[21] For example, on September 21, 2012, the Illinois Teachers Retirement System voted to lower its rate of return from 8.5 percent to 8.0 percent. This change increased the state's fiscal year 2014 ARC from $3.07 billion to $3.36 billion.[22] Similarly, when California's CalPERS reduced its projected annual rate of return from 7.75 percent to 7.5 percent in March 2012, it cost the state an additional $303 million for fiscal year 2013.[23]

The 2008 financial crisis had a devastating effect on pension plans nationwide and resulted in slower economic growth and increased market volatility. In light of this, some market strategists find the 8 percent assumption to be overly ambitious. Stanford University Finance Professor Joshua Rauh stated that using past investment performance in this economic climate was "dangerously optimistic."[24] Advocates for a lower assumed rate of return argue that the standard assumptions could cause pension fund managers to engage in more risky investments and imprudent stewardship of public funds. Further, if pension plans were using more conservative assumptions, such as the 3 or 4 percent assumed rate of return used in the private sector, and the plans grew more quickly than expected, the fund would have a surplus and smaller future ARCs, which would be preferable to using optimistic assumptions and potentially being caught with larger-than-expected deficits.[25][26][27][28][29]

On the other hand, traditional public pension plan advocates argue that the dip observed in recent years is not sufficient proof of a long-term, downward trend in investment returns. According to Chris Hoene, executive director at the California Budget Project, "The problem with [the market rate] argument is there isn’t significant evidence other than the short term blip during the economic crisis that there’s been that shift. It’s a speculative argument coming out of a very deep recession."[24]

The National Association of State Retirement Administrators compiled data on the median annualized rate of return for public pensions for the 1-, 3-, 5-, 10-, 20-, and 25-year periods ending in 2013. While the median annualized rate of return failed to meet the 8 percent assumption that most public pensions assume over the 5- and 10-year periods, it was just shy (7.9 percent) over the 20-year period, and it exceeded 8 percent for the 1-, 3-, and 25-year periods. It is important to note that the NASRA data is reporting the median returns, indicating that even though median annualized returns exceeded 8 percent in the 25-year period, the investment portfolios for half of the examined public pension funds failed to meet an 8 percent assumed rate of return.[30]

In September 2013, the nonprofit organization State Budget Solutions published an analysis of state pension funding levels. In its calculations, State Budget Solutions used a 3.2 percent rate of return, the 15-year Treasury bond yield as of August 21, 2013, to discount plan liabilities.

The research found that in all states combined, state public employee pension plans have only 39 percent of the assets they need to cover their promised payments—a $4.1 trillion gap. According to the report, Nevada's public pension plans were 36% funded, making it the 25th most funded state.[31]

Moody's report on adjusted pension liabilities

On June 27, 2013, Moody's Investor Service released its report on adjusted pension liabilities in the states. The Moody's report ranked states "based on ratios measuring the size of their adjusted net pension liabilities (ANPL) relative to several measures of economic capacity." In its calculations of net pension liabilities, Moody's employed market-determined discount rates (5.67 percent for Nevada) instead of the state reported assumed rates of return (8.00 percent for Nevada).[32]

The report's authors found that adjusted net pension liabilities varied dramatically from state to state, from 6.8 percent (Nebraska) to 241 percent (Illinois) of governmental revenues in fiscal year 2011.[32]

The adjusted net pension liability for Nevada's pension system in fiscal year 2011 was ranked 41st.[32] The following table presents key state-specific findings from the Moody's report, as well as the state's national rank with respect to each indicator.

Adjusted net pension liabilities (ANPL) relative to key economic indicators - Nevada
Governmental revenue* Personal income State GDP Per capita
State findings 39.1% 3.0% 2.3% $1,109
National ranking 28th 37th 39th 38th
*Moody's uses governmental revenues as reported in each state's consolidated annual financial reports; this includes not only state-generated revenue, but federal funds, as well.[32]

Pension fund management fees

See also: Public pension fund management fees

In July 2013, the Maryland Public Policy Institute (MPPI) and the Maryland Tax Education Foundation released a report detailing the fees paid for the management of state pension systems. According to MPPI, the 10 state pension funds that paid the most in management fees relative to net assets experienced lower returns over a five-year period than the 10 state pension funds that paid the least in management fees. For example, in fiscal year 2012 South Carolina's pension system paid approximately $296.1 million in total management fees (1.31 percent of total net assets at the beginning of the fiscal year) and its five-year rate of return was 1.46 percent. By contrast, Alabama's pension system paid roughly $13.3 million in management fees (0.05 percent of total net assets) and its five-year rate of return was 7.53 percent.[33]

The table below presents the information collected by MPPI for Nevada and surrounding states. For each state's pension system, total net assets are listed (both for the beginning and end of the fiscal year in question), as well as the total amount paid in management fees. In addition, the rates of return for the pension systems are presented.

Public pension fund management fees, 2011-2012
State Fiscal year Total net assets at the beginning of the year Total net assets at the end of the year Total management fees Management fees as a percentage of total net assets at the beginning of the year Five-year rate of return for the pension fund
California 2012 $397,107,606,000 $388,300,002,000 $960,532,000 0.24% -0.10%
Oregon 2012 $55,794,848,695 $53,659,423,570 $335,163,728 0.60% 1.80%
Washington 2012 $68,311,800,000 $67,887,700,000 $297,354,000 0.44% 1.20%
Utah 2011 $23,012,754,000 $23,218,742,000 $50,105,000 0.22% 1.91%
1"Three states— Hawaii, Nevada and Rhode Island—were excluded because they hadn’t published CAFRs for fiscal years ending December 31, 2011 or later. West Virginia was excluded because its June 30, 2012 CAFR lacked sufficient disclosure."[33]
Source: Maryland Public Policy Institute, "Wall Street Fees, Investment Returns, Maryland 49 Other State Pension Funds," July 1, 2013


Enacted reforms


Act No. 452
This act established the amount of the state's share of the costs of premiums for group insurance for active state officers and employees who participate in the Public Employees' Benefits Program, established the amount for the share of the costs for group insurance under the program that is required to be paid by the state and local governments for retirees, and established the share of the cost of qualified medical expenses for individual Medicare insurance plans through the program.[34]

Proposed reforms


NV S 201
This bill, which failed on April 22, 2013, would have revised the provisions governing the employment of retired public employees.[34]

Other reforms

Nevada does not prohibit "double-dipping." Almost 700 state workers have taken advantage of the double-dipping law, which allows some workers who are retired and collect a pension to come back to work at state jobs where a "critical labor shortage" exists and earn paychecks. These are positions that state employers have found difficult to fill for a variety of reasons, such as location, low wages and special skill requirements. The state retirement program spent $54.4 million on double-dipping employees from 2001 to 2008, according to a study completed for the state legislature. The next report is due in 2014.[35]

Local public pensions

See also: Local government public pensions

According to the United States Census Bureau, the state has no locally-administered pension systems.[5]


See also: Public pension disclosure and Governmental Accounting Standards Board
  • The Reno Gazette-Journal filed a lawsuit against the retirement system, which denied the newspaper's request for the names and benefit amounts of retired public employees. The paper argued that the information is a matter of public record. Carson City District Judge James Russell supported the newspaper, concluding that the purpose of the Nevada Public Records Act is to "ensure accountability of the government to members of the public by facilitating public access to vital information about government activities." Judge Russell ordered PERS to hand over the records. PERS disagreed. Chris Wicker, the attorney for PERS, said the law does not clearly address the topic. "Since the 1970s, PERS interpreted (state laws) as treating employee files as confidential," Wicker said, adding that PERS wants to comply, but needs a "definitive statement" from high court justices on what the law means.[36]
  • The pension website published a "Popular Annual Financial Report," but the Comprehensive Annual Financial Report must be requested to be mailed and previous reports are not archived online.[37][38]
  • Nevada has some statutes in place for public access of asset disclosure, gifts, and hospitality given to board members and administrators of public pension funds, but the statutes become relevant only after board members and administrators receive a specific level of income, which, in practice, make the statutes inactive.[39]

Recent news

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See also

Additional reading

External links


  1. Figures below are compiled by adding up all state pension plans
  2. Difference in funding ratio from 2009 to 2012
  3. This figure is derived by calculating the percent difference between the current year's funding level and the system's percent funded from the prior year.
  4. Rank is relative to the 50 state pension programs. "1" refers to the healthiest pension plan while "50" would be the least well-funded plan.
  5. 5.0 5.1 "Public Employee Retirement Systems State- and Locally-Administered Pensions Summary Report: 2010," United States Census Bureau, April 30, 2012
  6. 6.0 6.1 "Widening Gap Update: Nevada," June 18, 2012
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 7.4 7.5 Nevada Public Employees' Retirement System, "2013 Comprehensive Annual Financial Report." -- CAFR could only be obtained by directly requesting a copy from PERS; complete report was unavailable online as of February 5, 2013
  8. Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, "Pensions Glossary," accessed November 27, 2013
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 9.3 9.4 "Judicial Retirement System Actuarial Valuation Report as of June 30, 2012," accessed October 30, 2013
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 10.3 10.4 "Legislators Retirement System Actuarial Valuation Report as of June 30, 2012," accessed October 30, 2013
  11. United States Government Accountability Office Report to the Committee on Finance, U.S. Senate, "State and Local Government Retiree Benefits: Current Status of Benefit Structures, Protections, and Fiscal Outlook for Funding Future Costs," September 2007. accessed October 23, 2013
  12. American Academy of Actuaries, "Issue Brief: The 80% Pension Funding Standard Myth," July 2012. accessed October 23, 2013
  13. Governing Magazine, " Is There a Plot Against Pensions?" October 14, 2013
  14. 14.0 14.1 State Budget Solutions, "Promises Made, Promises Broken - The Betrayal of Pensioners and Taxpayers," accessed September 20, 2013
  15. 15.0 15.1 Analysis only available for system totals and not individual funds.
  16. Government Accounting Standards Board, "Annual Required Contribution (ARC)," accessed October 17, 2013
  17. Reuters, "Little-known U.S. board stokes hot pension debate," July 10, 2012
  18. State Budget Solutions, "GASB's ineffective public pension reporting standards set to take effect," June 5, 2013
  19. "The Widening Gap Update,” Pew Center on the States, accessed October 17, 2013
  20. The New York Times "Public Pensions Faulted for Bets on Rosy Returns," May 27, 2012
  21. Benefits Magazine "Public Pension Funding 101: Key Terms and Concepts," April 2013. accessed October 23, 2013
  22. Crain's Chicago Business "State teachers pension board lowers expected rate of return," September 21, 2013. accessed October 23, 2013
  23. Huffington Post "California Pension Funds Expect Lower Investment Return," March 14, 2012. accessed October 23, 2013
  24. 24.0 24.1 Governing "Expert: Governments Are Masking Their Pension Liabilities ," October 25, 2013. accessed October 25, 2013
  25. The Washington Post "Kansas’s pension funding gap just grew by $1 billion," September 6, 2013. accessed October 25, 2013
  26. Topeka Capital-Journal "KPERS' unfunded liability rises to $10.2B," September 4, 2013. accessed October 25, 2013
  27. Wall Street Journal "Pensions Wrestle With Return Rates," October 10, 2011. accessed October 23, 2013
  28. The Courant "Promising Too Much On Public Pensions," August 10, 2012. accessed October 23, 2013
  29. Business Wire "NCPERS 2013 Survey: Public Pension Plans Report Increasing Confidence, Lower Costs, Growing Returns," October 22, 2013. accessed October 25, 2013
  30. National Association of State Retirement Administrators "Issue Brief: Public Pension Plan Investment Return Assumptions," October 2013. accessed October 23, 2013
  31. State Budget Solutions, "Promises Made, Promises Broken - The Betrayal of Pensioners and Taxpayers," accessed September 20, 2013
  32. 32.0 32.1 32.2 32.3 Moody's Investor Service, "Adjusted Pension Liability Medians for US States," June 27, 2013
  33. Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; no text was provided for refs named report
  34. 34.0 34.1 National Conference of State Legislatures, "Pensions and Retirement Plan Enactments in 2011 State Legislatures," accessed October 31, 2013
  35. Reno Gazette Journal, "RGJ investigates: Nevada's pension laws allow double-dipping," May 30, 2011
  36. Plan Sponsor, "Nev. Pension Fund Challenging Pensioner Disclosure Ruling," January 19, 2012
  37. Public Employees' Retirement System of Nevada, "Popular Annual Financial Report," accessed December 5, 2013
  38. Public Employees' Retirement System of Nevada, "Comprehensive Annual Financial Report request form," accessed December 5, 2013
  39. State Integrity Investigation, "Nevada laws concerning pay-to-play," accessed December 5, 2013