Labor groups decry cut in public employee benefits | NevadaAppeal.com
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Labor groups decry cut in public employee benefits

SANDRA CHEREB
Associated Press Writer

Nevada labor leaders and worker representatives Thursday condemned big cuts to public employee and retiree benefits and pledged to overhaul the state’s tax system if lawmakers don’t in the 2011 Legislature.

“If they can’t fix it this time, then we are going to go into the street and fix it by the initiative process,” said Danny Thompson, executive secretary of the Nevada AFL-CIO.

The labor groups held a news conference outside the legislative building before a meeting of the Public Employee Benefits Board, which last month voted to slash benefits for active workers and retirees beginning July 1 because of a projected $3 billion state budget deficit.

Afterward, Thompson said a corporate income tax may be proposed.

The benefit cuts affect roughly 70,000 participants. They include higher deductibles and out-of-pocket costs and elimination of most dental benefits.

“If you laid off all state employees today … there still isn’t enough money to fund the second year of the biennium,” Thompson said. “To suggest raising the deductible to $7,800, that’s not insurance for public employees.

“That is not a solution,” he said. “That’s a joke.”

Nevada’s major party gubernatorial candidates, Democrat Rory Reid and Republican Brian Sandoval, both have said they won’t raise taxes.

Thompson dismissed them as bit players in the budget drama that will play out when the Legislature convenes in February.

“The governor is irrelevant in this process,” he said. It takes a two-thirds majority to override vetoes and pass tax increases.

“These are the people who will make these decisions,” he said, pointing to the legislative building behind him.

Lalo Macias, acting chief of American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 4041, said salary and benefits reductions imposed on state workers threaten services and public safety.

Lisa DeHart, an AFSCME member and state welfare caseworker, said caseloads have skyrocketed as more people need services because of Nevada’s dour economy. Nevada leads the national in bankruptcies, foreclosures and joblessness, which reached a record 14.3 percent in July.

“As state employees, like all Nevadans, we have had to learn to give more while living with less,” she said. “Like many private businesses, our agencies are operating with minimal staff.”

DeHart said the benefit cuts will mean fewer people will go to a doctor, and criticized suggestions that state services should be privatized to save money, saying public employees are a “better guardian” of taxpayer dollars.

“I’m all for capitalism but not at the cost to taxpayers,” she said.