For years, the state's administrators, professionals and specialists have complained there is no rhyme or reason to how their salaries are set - with many charging it depends more on how popular a boss is with the governor and Legislature than on the complexity, level of responsibility or workload.
Often, lawmakers weren't any happier with the system, which often made them targets of department heads and deputies lobbying for a raise.
After three years of work, Gov. Kenny Guinn's administration has offered lawmakers a plan it says will define which positions should be unclassified and bring structure and some consistency to their salaries.
Chief of Staff Mike Hillerby said a good example of the problem is the Cultural Affairs Department, of which he was director several years ago.
"The four division heads in Cultural Affairs are in three different classifications," he said. "One is unclassified, two are classified, and one - the state librarian - is classified but without protection from removal."
Personnel Director Jeanne Greene said the problem is spread throughout state government: "There are now 41 classified and 48 unclassified division administrators."
Hillerby and Greene said the idea was to set guidelines for deciding which positions should be classified and which should be unclassified, then to develop a pay schedule based on the size of the program, the complexity of the program, how powerful the decision-making power of that position is, how many employees, among other factors.
If lawmakers agree, the study will add 201 state positions to the unclassified service, including all wardens, deputy administrators, bureau chiefs and such positions as the head of the Nevada Highway Patrol - which is currently a classified post.
It also standardizes the pay scales for attorneys employed throughout the executive branch.
The result is significant pay raises for many positions. In all, more than 130 of the 512 positions on the list will get more than 10 percent a year, and 30 of those will see their salary jump more than 20 percent.
"But almost all of them were people who have been left behind over the years," said Hillerby. "There are too many people doing the same job in different agencies who get different pay. Every session we have some of these come up, and we have to fix them."
He said a good example are the lawyers working for the Nevada Attorney for Injured Workers, who have long been paid less than deputy attorneys general. They will get 17.4 percent more under the plan.
Those and similar increases for other executive branch lawyers are expected, however, to cause problems since the pay scales in the attorney general's office, which employs more than 200 state lawyers, isn't included in the study.
Greene said similar issues may come up with other agencies that aren't included in the study. The study did not include constitutional officers or selected departments such as Gaming Control and the Public Utilities Commission.
"Many of their unclassifieds don't meet the criteria because they aren't an administrator or a bureau chief and don't have employees under them," Greene said.
Hillerby said the attorney general and other constitutional officers may consider opting in to the tiered pay schedule. That would, however, increase the overall cost of implementing the new system.
Hillerby said a prime example of a position "left behind" as its responsibilities grew is the Nevada Commissioner of Veterans Services . Since his and his deputy's salaries were last reviewed, Hillerby said the north and south veterans cemeteries have grown dramatically and the Southern Nevada Veterans Home has opened, significantly increasing their responsibilities and workload.
The plan would bump both salaries more than 56 percent - which would put the commissioner's post at $95,500 a year.
He said there are also a number of increases in management positions within Public Safety made necessary because Guinn has proposed giving all law enforcement a two grade - 10 percent - special pay raise. Without applying that to their unclassified bosses, many NHP sergeants and lieutenants, for example, could end up making more than their bosses.
Asked about the inevitable requests by individuals to move them up a tier on the pay ladder, Director of Administration Perry Comeaux said that won't be up to the department head or the governor alone. He said Greene would probably conduct a reclassification study much like those for classified positions then make a recommendation which would have to be supported by both the governor and Legislature.
The Legislature has not yet held hearings on the proposed system.
n Contact reporter Geoff Dornan at email@example.com or 687-8750.