Posts Tagged ‘ty cobb’

Ty Cobb to Sheila Leslie: Sorry I Accidentally Kicked Your Campaign Sign to Bits

By Elizabeth Crum | 1:18 pm April 13th, 2010

Keep it classy, Assemblyman Cobb.

From Anjeannette:

Destroying, stealing or defacing the opposing side’s signs is a typical campaign season activity. But it’s a bit unusual for a sitting Assemblyman, who’s running for higher office, to get caught doing it.

Too bad for Assemblyman Ty Cobb, R-Reno, he decided to trash a campaign sign at a busy intersection in full view of motorists who recognized him.

An attendee leaving the Nevada Bighorns Unlimited dinner Friday night said he watched Cobb get out of a car at the corner of Moana and Kietzke lanes and kick to pieces a campaign sign for Assemblywoman Sheila Leslie, D-Reno, who is running for Senate in a different district.

I called Cobb to ask him about the incident. He laughed nervously and said he would get back to me. An hour later I received this response:

“I was leaving the Nevada Bighorn dinner over the weekend with some friends and supporters of my campaign. We passed some campaign signs and goofing around, a Leslie sign got damaged. I have called Sheila but could not reach her and apologized to her and asked if I might be allowed to replace the sign. It was a poor attempt at humor and was not done maliciously.”

Cobb is running in a Republican primary to replace state Sen. Randolph Townsend, R-Reno.

Ok, let’s just review.

The witness said Cobb was driving, got out of his car, walked over to the Leslie campaign sign, and kicked it to bits.

Cobb’s version is that he was passing the signs (walking? driving?) and messing ar0und with friends and Leslie’s sign just happened to get damaged.  And then he said it was a “poor attempt at humor.”

Question:  If you were just messing around and, say, accidentally tripped over the same sign a dozen times, destroying it in the process, why would you then say it was a “poor attempt” at being funny?  Wouldn’t you just say it was an accident?

Cobb’s own words about the incident convict him, I think.

Nevada’s Public Employee Pension Plan Has $9.1 Billion Unfunded Liability

By Sean Whaley | 2:49 pm March 17th, 2010

CARSON CITY – Nevada’s political leaders have emphasized repeatedly in recent months that the state faces a huge funding shortfall in 2011, perhaps as much as a $3 billion hole that will make the recent special session battle over cuts and new revenues pale by comparison.

But the state faces another financial challenge that some suggest may be even more difficult to address: a public employee pension system that has an unfunded liability of $9.1 billion as of June 30, 2009.

A recent study of state and local government pension funds identified Nevada as one of 19 states where “serious concerns” exist about the long-term health of the retirement plan. Nevada’s plan, where annual contributions by the state, local governments and public employees are invested in stocks, bonds and other instruments, is less than 80 percent fully funded, according to the examination by the Pew Center on the States issued in February 2010.

The study concluded in part: “In the midst of a severe budget crisis – with record-setting revenue declines, high unemployment, rising health care costs and fragile housing markets – state policy makers may be tempted to ignore this challenge. But they would do so at their peril. In many states, the bill for public sector retirement benefits already threatens strained budgets. It will continue to rise significantly if states do not bring down costs or set aside enough money to pay for them.”

The analysis by the Pew Center on the States found that as of Dec. 31, 2008, Nevada’s pension liability totaled $30.6 billion for current employees and retirees, with $7.3 billion of that amount unfunded for a 76 percent funded rate.

Dana Bilyeu, executive officer of the Public Employees Retirement System (PERS), said that unfunded liability is now at $9.1 billion. At its high point the plan was 85 percent funded in 2000. It now stands at 72.5 percent.

Bilyeu says the long-term liability will be funded over the next three decades and that major changes to the plan are not needed. The plan is being funded annually to the tune of $1.3 billion in contributions from all participating state and local governments and their employees, and those contribution rates are reset every two years to ensure it remains on strong financial footing, she said.

“To me, when you talk about public pension plans being in jeopardy, you need to focus on places where they are ignoring their responsibilities,” Bilyeu said.

Both Illinois and Washington state, for example, take contribution “holidays” where money that is supposed to go into the retirement plans is diverted to other uses, she said.

While the recent downturn in the market had a significant negative effect on the plan, people must remember that it is managed on a 60-year basis, not on a five- or 10-year time frame, she said.

“You either believe in the long-term financing approach or you don’t,” she said. “Nevada has embraced the long-term financing approach.”

Not everybody agrees with Bilyeu’s optimistic assessment. The Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce and the SAGE Commission, a panel established by Gov. Jim Gibbons to find efficiencies and save money in state government, have both recommended reforms to reduce the cost of the public pension system.

Cara Roberts, director of public relations for the Chamber, said regardless of state funding or the current economic climate, the state and local governments are providing benefits not found in the private sector.

“These promises we make do indeed have a real long term cost,” she said. “I suppose if there is a silver lining to the budget crisis, it is that fact we’re finally coming to the realization of where our taxes are actually going and whether those decisions truly reflect our priorities.”

The Pew report says there is a risk to states as they work to fully fund their plans due to market downturns such as the 2008 meltdown. Another issue is whether the generous retirement benefits provided by many of the plans, including Nevada’s, is siphoning limited tax revenues away from programs and services including public education.

While many Nevada officials and others believe there is a need to reform Nevada’s pension plan, they also acknowledge such reforms will be difficult to achieve. There has been a general consensus among many policy makers that changing the plan for current employees would not be fair since they entered the public sector workforce with certain expectations about retirement. Any changes made going forward for new employees only will take decades to bring about any definitive results.

Bilyeu said besides the fairness issue, there is a legal prohibition on making changes to the plan for current employees. Contributions made by employees are a form of deferred compensation, and altering the agreement with them would violate the contracts clause of both the U.S. and state constitutions, she said. The Nevada Supreme Court has issued an opinion on this issue, Bilyeu said.

Lynn Hettrick, deputy chief of staff to Gibbons, said one solution would be to change the plan from a “defined benefit” plan, where a specific pension amount is guaranteed on retirement, to a “defined contribution” plan, where set amounts of funds are contributed. This is the way most private companies operate, he said.

Usually in such plans the employee is responsible for making investment choices and so there would be no long-term liability on behalf of the state or local government.

But that is unlikely to occur in the short term because of the economy, he said.

“I don’t think we can get there right now,” Hettrick said.

Shifting to a defined contribution plan for new employees would require the state to cover the current unfunded liability in the defined benefit plan, which would then be closed to new participants and phased out over time.

“Given the current financial situation, that is not going to occur,” he said.

Hettrick said Gibbons does want to address the unfunded liability issue, but in the 2011 session, it may be a situation where some less sweeping changes are proposed, such as setting a minimum retirement age at 62 for all retirees. But if such changes are made on a going-forward only basis, such as those approved in 2009, there won’t be any short-term fix to the unfunded liability, he added.

“We need to bare bones the program and still provide a reasonable retirement,” Hettrick said. “People are living longer and working longer.”

Hettrick said also the Pew Study makes it clear the unfunded liability issue must be addressed by the governor and Legislature.

Assemblyman Ty Cobb, R-Reno, is one lawmaker who is skeptical of Bilyeu’s optimistic view of the health of the plan. He proposed the creation of a defined contribution plan in the 2009 session as some states have already done, but his bill did not get a hearing in the Democrat-controlled Assembly.

“The director of the system keeps saying, no matter what the outlook, that we’re doing fine, don’t worry about it,” he said. “But we have a huge unfunded liability, and we have to account for it.”

As to the Pew study, Cobb said most lawmakers and policy makers have known for some time the unfunded liability is a concern that needs attention.

But there is too much focus on partisan politics in the Nevada Legislature and not enough on major policy issues, he said. A change in the current climate would have to come from the grassroots level, Cobb said.

This is the first in a series of stories about Nevada’s public employee pension system.


Audio files from this story

[Audio][3 files]: Bilyeu on long-term financing; Hettrick on Government Action; Hettrick on Pew Study

Millennium Scholarship Program Faces Uncertain Future Due to State Budget Crisis

By Sean Whaley | 12:54 pm March 5th, 2010

CARSON CITY –A college scholarship available to eligible Nevada high school graduates could be in financial jeopardy as early as next year after the Legislature on Monday reluctantly agreed to take $12.6 million from the program to help balance the state budget.

But even as the Gov. Guinn Millennium Scholarship program faces an uncertain future, Sen. Bob Coffin, D-Las Vegas, rejects the idea of a means test to limit the program only to those in financial need.

Former Gov. Kenny Guinn, for whom the scholarship is named, also rejects such an idea, saying the Legislature in 2011 instead should consider restoring the funding taken this year which he acknowledged was necessary to help fill a more than $800 million budget hole.

Dan Burns, a spokesman for Gov. Jim Gibbons, said means testing as a way to extend the life of the scholarship has been a topic of discussion.

Regent Mark Alden said he would prefer to continue to see the scholarship made available to all eligible students, regardless of income. But when times are tough, means testing should be considered as a way to ensure the program remains viable, he said.

Assemblyman Ty Cobb, R-Reno, proposed a bill in the 2009 session that would have limited the scholarship to students or families with an adjusted gross income of less than $100,000 a year. The measure also would have required proof of legal residence to receive the scholarship. Nevada law now does not prohibit an illegal resident from receiving the scholarship. The bill did not get a hearing.

University officials testified in 2007 that fewer than 100 Millennium scholars were illegal residents.

Coffin, who will not be returning as a lawmaker in 2011 to address the scholarship shortfall, or the anticipated $3 billion hole in the next budget, said the purpose of the financial assistance was to keep academically talented Nevada high school graduates in the state.

The scholarship, which ranges from $40 to $80 per college credit hour depending on the college attended, is available only to students attending one of the campuses of the Nevada System of Higher Education. The scholarship limit is $10,000.

Students must qualify by earning a high enough grade point average in high school. Students must also maintain a minimum GPA while in college to continue receiving the scholarship.

Coffin said testimony of the effect of the transfer differed at the close of the session, with estimates putting the life of the program in jeopardy by as early as 2011 or as late as 2014.

“The scholarship is supposed to be based on academic achievement and potential,” he said. “I don’t think means testing is a good idea. We want to keep high quality people here in Nevada.”

Coffin said his daughter will graduate high school in 2012, and that he was counting on the scholarship as a partial assist to the family for college expenses.

“Unless we do something she will never get a dime,” he said.

Even so, Coffin was not sure what other alternatives should be considered to continue the program.

Guinn, who proposed the scholarship in his first term as governor using money from a state settlement with tobacco companies, said he too does not believe means testing is the answer. The scholarship is too important, and the Legislature next year should consider restoring the fund while tackling what could be a $3 billion funding shortfall, he said.

Means testing would only pit one Nevada family against another, Guinn said.

While the transfer was necessary because of the tough economic conditions and the need for all programs to assist with the shortfall, the scholarship is too important to let fail, he said.

“It is so important for economic development and providing an educated workforce,” Guinn said.

Burns said there is no need for a quick resolution to the scholarship shortfall because the program is good through 2014. But the idea of limiting it to those in financial need only as a way to extend its life has been a topic of conversation in the administration, he said.

Regent Mark Alden said he would be amenable to means testing if it could save the scholarship.

“I have no problem with that at all,” he said. “When we’re short on money, we have to be more careful.”

It is a better option than losing the program completely, Alden said.

The scholarship is costing about $25 million a year but is getting only about $18 million a year from the tobacco fund. As a result, the Legislature has transferred money from the state’s unclaimed property fund to keep the program financially sound.

According to the state Treasurer’s Office, which oversees the program, about 59,000 Nevada high school graduates have taken advantage of the program since it began in 2000, with about 20,000 earning degrees.