Unions say governor shouldn’t look at salaries for budget relief | NevadaAppeal.com

Unions say governor shouldn’t look at salaries for budget relief

A spokesman for state workers said Wednesday the idea floated by Gov. Jim Gibbons to cut salaries to balance the state budget is the same as raising their taxes.

Dennis Mallory of the American Federation of Federal, State and Municipal Employees, said Gibbons rejected the idea of raising taxes because it would be irresponsible to increase the burden on Nevadans during this time of economic crisis.

“Well, state employees are Nevadans, too, and cutting their pay is doing exactly what he said he didn’t want to do,” said Mallory. “It’s the same as raising their taxes.”

At the same time, the head of the Nevada State Education Association said Gibbons doesn’t have the legal ability to take back teacher pay raises to balance the budget.

“There’s no legal way he can reduce salaries for teachers and other school employees because we’ve got bargained contracts,” said Lynn Warne on Wednesday.

And teacher salaries make up more than two-thirds of the total salaries supported by the state.

During an interview Monday, Gibbons suggested the possibility of reducing state salaries, saying it would be preferable to wholesale layoffs.

The cost of implementing the 2 percent raises last year was $23.75 million for state workers, but $44.3 million for teachers. The 4 percent raises, which took effect July 1, cost $61.3 million for state workers but $139.2 million for teachers, according to the Legislative Appropriations Report.

Under state law, the governor and Legislature have the power to reduce state salaries, but even taking back all 6 percent in cost of living raises granted state workers this year wouldn’t come close to covering the state’s estimated shortfall ” especially since nearly half the fiscal year is already gone.

“So what? Now do we take a 15 percent cut instead of 5 because they can’t hit the teachers?” Mallory asked.

He said his organization is willing to talk with the governor and lawmakers, but not about the salaries of clerks, secretaries and other lower level employees.

“Let’s take a look at upper echelon state employees. Let’s see what they make and look at that dollar figure.”

He said the average classified state employee makes about $35,000 a year and that lower-level workers who haven’t yet reached the top of their scale make $10,000 to $15,000 less than that.

“A single parent making $20,000 a year being asked to cut 5 percent or more off their salary, that 5 percent is critical,” he said. 

Ron Cuzze of the Nevada State Law Enforcement Association said pay cuts would drive more highway patrolmen, parole officers and others to leave the state for local government jobs.

“I think he’s suffering from delusions,” he said. “State law enforcement agencies are at bare bones right now.”

Cuzze said hardest hit has been parole and probation, where caseloads for officers are climbing above 120 apiece. He said unsupervised parolees and probationers will just get in trouble and wind up in prison ” costing the state far more money.

He said the union’s position has always been “No layoffs, no salary cuts.”

“After all, we’re talking about public safety here.”

Gibbons said Monday he is willing to take a salary reduction to help avoid layoffs, adding that, “It should start at the top.”

Mallory questioned why the governor and lawmakers won’t look to the casinos and major businesses in the state.

“It’s inconceivable to me not to take a look at those entities first rather than folks who are looking at $20,000 a year,” he said.

Contact reporter Geoff Dornan at gdornan@nevadaappeal.com or 687-8750.