Wednesday, March 2, 2011 | 2:01 a.m.
The Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce on Monday released its latest report on public employee pay, once again finding that government workers’ pay levels are above average in Nevada. Local and state governments’ wages combined are 13 percent above the national average, and these public employees are the ninth-highest paid in the country.
The report’s findings will certainly stir up the anti-government crowd that has been railing against public employees, fueled by examples of outrageous abuse of overtime and sick leave in the Clark County Fire Department. Local governments in Nevada, paced by Clark County, pay 14 percent better than the national average.
As we have noted, the abuses and the overly generous compensation packages given to some government employees need to be reined in. Government at all levels has to reconsider pay and benefits, particularly hefty pension plans, and make sure they’re fair and equitable without being lavish.
State government has instituted furloughs, and local governments are working on a variety of measures to reduce payroll expenses.
However, despite the arguments made by some people, simply cutting government workers’ pay isn’t the answer to the state’s budget woes. The state’s payroll is 7 percent higher than the national average. If the Legislature were to bring state workers’ salaries down to the national average, the savings wouldn’t come close to solving a budget shortfall of more than $2 billion.
Still, there will be those who will try to use the report and the recession as reasons to decimate government. That can’t be allowed to happen, particularly because the report undercuts one of the classic arguments of government critics who say that government is bloated.
Prepared by Applied Analysis in Las Vegas, the report says that Nevada has the smallest government per capita in the nation. Of course, whether critics admit it or not, the state has long had one of the smallest governments in the nation, and it shows. Services in Nevada have lagged for years because the state hasn’t adequately funded government.
For example, the chamber report says teachers in public schools and the Nevada System of Higher Education are paid below the national average. It’s no wonder the education system has struggled as much as it has. How does Nevada recruit good teachers when it can’t even offer average pay, especially when they can go someplace with a lower cost of living?
Wages and benefits are a large part of the government’s budget, and they will have to be addressed carefully. But in the budget debate, government employees shouldn’t become the scapegoat or be seen as the problem.
As the governor and the Legislature work on the state budget, they should look beyond the rhetoric and the hyperbole that so often dominate debates, and find ways to keep important services and pay people appropriately.
The decisions they make will set priorities that will affect Nevadans for years to come. They should be carefully considering how to rebuild Nevada and its government, not destroy it.