Assembly GOP: reform public retirement, wages

Sandra Chereb, Associated Press
Assembly GOP: reform public retirement, wages

Nevada Assembly Republicans, from left, Cresent Hardy, Melissa Woodbury, Pat Hickey and Randy Kirner talk at a news conference at the Legislative Building in Carson City, Nev., on Thursday, March 7, 2013. The lawmakers outlined public employee pension and prevailing wage reforms as ways for the state to save money and fund education. (AP Photo/Cathleen Allison)

CARSON CITY, Nev. (AP) -- Assembly Republicans said Thursday that reforming Nevada's public employee pension system and prevailing wage laws for public works projects are at the top of their agenda for the legislative session.

The GOP minority leadership also stood behind Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval's $6.5 billion general fund budget proposal and against an idea touted by Republicans in the Senate to seek higher taxes on the mining industry.

Assembly Minority Leader Pat Hickey of Reno said at a news conference that he believes lawmakers can come to terms on overhauling Nevada's tax structure, something Speaker Marilyn Kirkpatrick, D-North Las Vegas, has said would be on ongoing discussion this session.

Hickey added that the priorities outlined by his caucus would not be used as leverage to broker a deal, but instead to offer "reasonable, cost saving" ideas. He said Republican and Democratic leaders were scheduled to meet next week to begin talking about the state's tax structure, which is heavily reliant on sales and casino taxes that are prone to deep troughs during economic turmoil.

Assembly Democrats were quick to criticize the Republican agenda, calling the proposals the "same tired and typical measures" that attack workers and do nothing to adequately fund education or create jobs.

Democrats are pushing for small class sizes and full-day kindergarten statewide as part of a comprehensive education package that would cost an estimated $300 million above the governor's spending plan.

"It seems the only people in this building who think that we don't have to do anything today for education in this state sit on the Republican side of the Assembly aisle," said Majority Leader William Horne, D-Las Vegas. "Continuing to attack workers and families will get us nowhere."

Assemblyman Randy Kirner, R-Reno, said he will introduce a bill to move public pensions away from a defined benefit plan to a hybrid system that emphasizes a contribution plan as part of the overall retirement system.

Under a defined benefit plan, retirees are guaranteed a monthly amount based on their salary and how long they've worked. Monthly benefits under a contribution plan are based on how much is put into an individual retirement account, but the benefits are portable, meaning an employee can take that money with them if they leave public service.

Kirner estimated his proposal would save $30 million in the last half of the two-year budget cycle because the state's contribution rate would be lower. He also said it would help reduce the Public Employee Retirement System's $11.2 billion unfunded liability.

On public works projects, Assistant Assembly Minority Leader Crescent Hardy, R-Mesquite, said he's sponsoring a bill that would exempt school projects from prevailing wage laws — a requirement Republicans argue are inflated by union wages and not reflective of the overall labor market.