Why not balance budget on the backs of state workers? | NevadaAppeal.com

Why not balance budget on the backs of state workers?

Chuck Muth
Special to the Appeal

A recent letter-writer to the Nevada Appeal asked why Gov. Jim Gibbons was trying to “balance the budget shortfall on the backs of state workers.” Heck, that’s an easy one. It’s the same reason Willie Sutton robbed banks. Because that’s where the money is.

You can’t raise taxes on struggling families already canceling HBO and foregoing trips to Mickey D’s. You can’t raise taxes on businesses going out of business. And you can’t raise taxes on tourists no longer coming here.

So tax hikes are off the table. Unless the governor breaks his word to the citizens of Nevada or the Legislature votes to raise taxes over the governor’s veto … which they have the power to do, but probably not the guts.

That leaves cutting government spending. And payroll makes up most of what the government spends our money on. So like it or not, state workers’ paychecks are on the line. And that pretty much means one of two things: layoffs or salary reductions. Maybe even a combination of both.

Now, I’m a limited-government conservative, not a no-government anarchist. I fully acknowledge that there are legitimate, essential functions for government ” such as catching and throwing bad guys in the hoosegow. And no doubt, most state workers are conscientious and competent in what they do.

But there’s the rub. Much of what the government still does isn’t “essential.” Nor is every worker competent and conscientious. That’s why I’ve always favored layoffs of “dead wood” and the shuttering of non-essential agencies and services before talking about salary reductions. After all, the objective here should be to actually reduce the size and scope of government, not just reduce its cost.

After all, why should a competent, essential employee working for, say, the Secretary of State, have her salary reduced by 10 percent just to save the job of, say, a baby-faced 18-year-old police “decoy” whose job is to walk into 7-Elevens and try to entrap the minimum wage clerk behind the counter into selling him a six-pack of beer? Aren’t there any gangs or meth labs out there he could infiltrate instead?

But if you lay off non-essential workers, the government employees’ unions won’t have as many dues-paying members. So even though it’s in the best interest of the vast majority of competent, essential government workers to lay off the non-essential dead wood, union bosses are squealing like stuck pigs ” with or without lipstick ” over that suggestion.

And then there’s the insane notion ” being advanced, I’m told, by some close to the governor ” that if we reduce the salaries of state workers, they’ll leave and find jobs in the private sector.

Hello, McFly? There ARE no jobs in the private sector. The private sector has been laying off employees left and right for over a year now. The idea that a salary reduction for state workers would result in a mass exodus ” giving up their generous benefits and retirement for the uncertainty of finding a job in the private sector in this economy ” is ludicrous.

But let’s concede for argument’s sake that a number of state workers might quit their jobs rather than take a pay reduction. So? Do you mean to tell me that with unemployment pushing 8 percent in Nevada these days that no one would come forward and take those jobs at the reduced salary level? Puh-lease. The line of applicants would stretch from Adele’s to Red’s Old 395 Grill.

I’m not in favor of reducing the salaries of competent, essential state workers – especially cops. But unless politicians stop pretending that every low-level clerk and the Nevada Arts Council are as “essential” as prison guards and classroom teachers (not “administrators”), then it looks like the vast majority of state workers could end up suffering financially just to protect the jobs of a non-essential few.

Charles Darwin, call your office.

P.S. Happy Birthday to my daughter Jenna ” who turns seven today!

– Chuck Muth is president of Citizen Outreach, a non-profit public policy grassroots advocacy organization. The views expressed are his own and do not necessarily reflect the views of Citizen Outreach. He may be reached at chuck@citizenoutreach.com.