Sunday, June 10, 2012 | 2 a.m.
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s decisive victory against the recall efforts last week may have emboldened some governors and lawmakers across the country to more aggressively confront public-sector employee unions.
When Walker took power in 2010, Wisconsin Republicans also took control of the Legislature, pushing large increases in public employee contributions to pension and benefit plans, eliminating most collective bargaining rights for government workers and stopping the automatic deduction of union dues from government workers’ paychecks.
Those changes spurred protests from Democrats and the labor community and triggered the recall, which ended up being a referendum of support for Walker and the Republican agenda.
But the reaction of Nevada’s elected Republicans to the anti-labor fervor in Wisconsin has been muted, the equivalent of celebrating with a sip of Schlitz instead of popping Champagne corks.
The political reality in Nevada is that any proposed legislation has to have Democratic support.
“I can be as emboldened as I want to be, (but) this has to be a bipartisan solution,” state Sen. Michael Roberson, R-Las Vegas, who sponsored bills last session to end automatic union dues paycheck deductions and eliminate binding arbitration. “Republicans don’t control both houses of the Legislature. No one thinks we’ll control both houses next session. We have to hope Democrats look at the issues on their face, on the merits, and enact some reforms.”
Republicans hope to take back control of the state Senate, where Democrats hold an 11-10 advantage. But in the Assembly, Democrats hold a 26-16 advantage. That makes changes such as those passed under Walker in Wisconsin virtually impossible, through the Legislature.
Without a doubt, when lawmakers meet in 2013, Republicans will run bills to curtail public employee collective bargaining rights — though that seems to be guaranteed more by developments in Nevada than Walker’s win in Wisconsin.
Recently, an arbitrator awarded raises to teachers in Clark County, forcing the School District to prepare for the layoff of as many as 1,000 teachers. On top of that, the city of North Las Vegas declared a state of emergency after the city council said concessions being offered by public employee unions were inadequate to keep the city solvent.
But Republican lawmakers are striking a pragmatic tone, for now.
Assembly Minority Leader Pat Hickey, R-Reno, said the Wisconsin results “show voters are concerned about the escalating costs of pensions and benefits of public employees.”
But, he said, “We need to find answers for Nevada’s challenges that are workable for us. I, for one, am not interested in trying to dismantle public or private unions.”
Gov. Brian Sandoval declined an interview request last week. But he has been cautious about taking a combative stance with public employee unions. And Tuesday’s victory by Walker doesn’t appear to have signaled any sort of change to Sandoval’s stance.
“Given ongoing discussions in cities, counties and school districts who frequently ask for reforms, the governor is reviewing all collective bargaining laws and will continue to look at PERS reforms,” Sandoval’s spokeswoman, Mary-Sarah Kinner, said.
Sandoval supports holding negotiations with public employee unions in the open, she said.
Paul Enos, CEO of the Nevada Trucking Association, called Sandoval “a pragmatic guy.”
“I think he will say, ‘Can I win this? Is it worth the political capital on an issue I’m going to lose?’ ” Enos asked. “I think he’ll spend (his capital) on issues like economic diversification, keeping taxes low and having a business-friendly regulatory environment.”
But conservative activists have been frustrated by the modest collective bargaining reforms Republicans have exacted in exchange for supporting tax increases.
“Republicans traded not-so-temporary tax increases for very minor reforms,” said Victor Joecks, a spokesman for the Nevada Policy Research Institute, a libertarian think tank. “It’s like we’re running the first 100 yards of a marathon and stopping to celebrate. It’s a start, but there’s a long way to go.”