CARSON CITY -- Gov. Brian Sandoval announced Wednesday that he wants to end state employee furloughs and instead cut their pay by 5 percent.
The pay cuts would not apply to teachers, his aides said.
Under the furlough program launched in July 2009 after the state sank into a deep recession, most state workers were forced to take off one unpaid day a month, which cut their pay by 4.6 percent.
"In my meetings with Cabinet officers, I have heard consistently that the furloughs are difficult to manage," Sandoval said in a letter to state employees. "They result in poor customer service and leave employees with unfinished work that awaits their return after a furlough day. While the 5 percent reduction represents more of a sacrifice than the 4.6 percent, I am hopeful there is a trade-off in workload management."
But a leader of a state employee organization in Carson City called the new governor's plan "worse than furlough days."
"This is the first piece of communication between the governor and state employees, and he is asking them to take a pay cut," said Vishnu Subramaniam, chief of staff for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 4041. "Essentially it makes them work an additional day and not be compensated."
Sandoval's plan would make the pay cuts effective July 1, but it needs approval of the Legislature, and both houses are controlled by Democrats. Sandoval is a Republican.
Gov. Jim Gibbons failed two years ago when he proposed a 6 percent pay cut. Instead, legislators approved the one-day-per-month furlough plan, which is set to expire after June 30.
"That seems a little tough," said state Sen. Mike Schneider, D-Las Vegas, about the 5 percent cuts. "I don't think you can do across-the-board cuts. Some state agencies' workload has increased because of the recession. Businesses lay workers off, and state government's work increases."
The letter was directed to state workers, not to teachers, who have the right to bargain collectively for wages and benefits at the school district level.
Besides 5 percent pay cuts, Sandoval said he will propose on Jan. 24 that the state continue a freeze on longevity pay and merit pay increases for state employees.
Sandoval said he and his staff will take the same pay cut as state workers, and he will refuse a 6 percent pay increase he is entitled to receive this year.
"I have had the opportunity to meet many of you personally since taking my oath of office last week," Sandoval said in his letter.
"You have expressed a willingness to continue to make sacrifices -- provided others made them as well. I believe this is the right course. I admire your service to our state and appreciate your willingness to work through these lean years."
Sandoval will release his proposed two-year budget on Jan. 24 and deliver a State of the State address that evening to the Legislature.
He has said his budget will be based on available tax revenue, about $5.4 billion, and include no tax increases. Current state spending is $6.4 billion.
Earlier Wednesday, several state workers were asked at a Carson City restaurant to comment on the possibility that Sandoval would end furloughs. Several said they already had heard reports of a coming 5 percent pay cut.
"We are really upset about that happening," said Elnette Metcalf, a five-year state employee from Gardnerville. "But at least I will still have a job, compared to my niece," who is unemployed.
Another state employee, Brenda Grady, said it has been nice to have a furlough day every month, but it also has meant less money in her pocket to spend when she goes shopping on her furlough days.
"My teenagers have to eat, and they eat a lot," she said. "If we aren't getting the pay, at least we should continue to get the day off."
The Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce in 2008 released a study that found public employees in Nevada earn 28 percent more than private-sector employees. But most of the difference was because of the higher pay received by county and local government employees, not state workers.
According to the chamber study, state workers received an average of $48,491 in 2006. That was 2.4 percent more than the typical state worker around the country.
The chamber study also found Nevada on a per capita basis has the lowest number of public employees in the nation.
Contact Capital Bureau Chief Ed Vogel at email@example.com or 775-687-3901.