Lawmakers hit state worker pay harder than teachers
Democratic lawmakers approved a compromise plan that reduces the impact of salary cuts on state and university employees called for by the governor.
But the deal suggested by Assembly Speaker John Oceguera, D-Las Vegas, still hits those employees much harder than teachers.
When they closed the K-12 budgets, Democrats on the money committees decided to reject the 5 percent pay cuts on teachers, a move costing the state $259.2 million over the biennium.
But when it came to state and university employees, they decided to cut the 5 percent in half, reducing salaries 2.5 percent – then mandating six furlough days each year to bring the total reduction to 4.8 percent for a state employee.
Oceguera said at least that way, the workers get the time off, which they wouldn’t get if it was just a straight pay cut. He said it also takes care of the problem of not being able to furlough some public safety workers – primarily correctional staff. If they must be exempted from the furloughs, he said they would take an additional 2.3 percent pay cut, matching the total 4.8 percent reduction of all other state workers.
Gov. Brian Sandoval’s recommendation would have saved the state $121 million over the biennium, and the new plan would reduce those savings by $7 million to $10 million.
State employees have been taking monthly furloughs since 2009 that amount to a 4.6 percent pay cut, and the new plan amounts to a 4.8 percent pay cut.
Legislators also voted to continue freezing merit pay increases, which typically provide employees a raise each year, and longevity bonuses, which kick in during the eighth year of state service. Those bonuses, meant to retain experienced employees, start out at $150 each year and reach a maximum of $2,350 each year at 30 or more years of continuous state service.
Committee members also chose to eliminate holiday premium pay, a provision that would affect public safety workers in particular. The measure would reduce holiday pay from 2.5 times the daily wage to twice the daily wage.
Freezing the raises and holiday premium pay would save about $70 million over the next two years.
Employee union spokesman Kevin Ranft said Nevada has the smallest per-capita government of any state.
“If it is the smallest government in the nation then why can’t we fund it? It’s on the backs of state employees. We ask you fund state government before it collapses.”
After the decisions, he said lawmakers aren’t treating state workers as well as education employees. He said if that continues, the best will leave for other jobs.
Jim Richardson representing the university employees said all campuses are already losing talented staff who can get offers elsewhere. He cited a talented engineering professor at UNR he said left for Utah, taking with him five people and “all of the grants” he generates each year.
AFL-CIO director Danny Thompson told the committees the people have made it clear they don’t want further education and vital services cuts.
“If you don’t solve this problem, the people are going to solve this problem,” he said.
Thompson pointed to the ballot question on raising Nevada’s minimum wage as an example.
“I came before you and asked you to raise the minimum wage and you didn’t so the people did and now it’s in the constitution.”
The state employee pay issue became a battleground Tuesday between the parties. Republicans pointed out the sufferings of the private sector during the recession but said they might support the compromise if they had more time. Democrats charged them with delay tactics.
“We can’t hold hostage our services at a time of greatest need,” said Assembly Minority Leader Marcus Conklin. “We’re going to find that it’s more affordable to do things that are right and just.”
• The Associated Press contributed to this report.