High court employees skip furloughs

CARSON CITY -- Nevada justices decided Tuesday that Supreme Court employees won't be required to take one unpaid furlough day each month as other state employees are doing to save money during the deep recession.

Court Budget Manager Deanna Bjork told justices during a brief administrative meeting that furloughs are not needed in the first quarter because the court already has saved money by eliminating vacant positions and making other cuts.

Justices will hold another meeting to see if furloughs are needed after the July-September quarter is over.

Bjork said the budget savings achieved by the court more than offset the 4.6 percent salary reduction that would have been achieved by furloughs.

"It's a grim situation," Chief Justice Ron Parraguirre said at the meeting.

The Legislature last year cut the Supreme Court's personnel budget by that 4.6 percent to achieve savings, but as an independent branch of government the court can reject the proposed furloughs.

All state agencies directed by the governor's office must furlough employees during the economic downturn.

The Department of Corrections during the fiscal year that ended June 30 did not have to furlough correctional officers. But since July 1, even those employees are being forced to take a day off each month without pay.

Daniel Burns, spokesman for Gov. Jim Gibbons, questioned the fairness of Supreme Court employees not being furloughed when all other state employees are being forced to take furloughs.

He noted that Gibbons, who by law receives a $141,000-a-year salary, has been donating more than 4.6 percent of his pay to a fund to give merit pay to teachers out of a sense that he should suffer the same burden as everyone else.

"It is a curious situation," Burns said. "They (justices) are free to do what they want because they are a separate branch of government. But the tragedy is they could save taxpayers even more."

The Legislature is saving $900,000 a year by furloughing its 250 employees. But those employees will not be furloughed in the spring during the 120-day legislative session.

Lorne Malkiewich, administrator of the Legislative Counsel Bureau which advises lawmakers, said Tuesday he found $300,000 in other savings to offset additional pay that will be earned by the legislative staff during the 2011 session.

The Supreme Court has about 250 employees, counting the seven justices, 64 district judges and more than 20 former judges who occasionally work as senior judges. District judges are state employees, with salaries paid by the state. Other district court salaries and expenses are paid by the counties in which they work.

Bill Gang, a spokesman for the Supreme Court, said salaries paid to justices and district judges will never be subject to furlough reductions since they are set up law and cannot be reduced. Most justices are paid $170,000 a year, while district judges receive $160,000.

To help out during the recession, Parraguirre and Justice Jim Hardesty agreed last year not to accept the $30,000-a-year pay for serving on the state law library commission. Their $140,000-a-year base pay is lower than other justices' because they were elected before justices' pay was boosted. They won't get pay increases until they are re-elected. They are unopposed in bids for re-election this November.

While pay levels for judges, justices and constitutional officers are established by law, nothing prevents any of the officials from returning pay or donating all or part of their salaries to charitable causes.

Secretary of State Ross Miller and Controller Kim Wallin set up plans in December to have a portion of their pay deducted and placed into the state general fund.

State Treasurer Kate Marshall earlier donated $3,300 of her pay to the general fund, according to her chief of staff, Steve George.

Contact Capital Bureau Chief Ed Vogel at evogel@reviewjournal.com or 775-687-3901.