Studies examine salaries

CARSON CITY -- A Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce study released today found state and local government workers in Nevada earn 28 percent more than workers in the private sector.

The study found the median income of Nevada's 136,640 state and local government employees in 2006 was $47,449, 28 percent more than the $37,039 income of Nevada's 1.13 million private sector workers.

The study only examined pay and didn't compare the value of benefits received by government and private sector workers.

Unlike past state salary surveys, the chamber analysis used payroll information for all companies, including lower-paid workers at fast-food restaurants and chain stores.

But the chamber also analyzed pay for 324 job types for which private companies and governments employ the same type of workers. In 81.5 percent of the cases where the public and private sectors have the same type of workers, state and local government workers earned more, 28.7 percent more on average.

"Our public employees at the local level and in some job classifications are particularly high-paid," said Jeremy Aguero, a principal with Applied Analysis, the firm that helped prepare the study.

For example, median pay for computer specialists in private industry in Nevada was $59,756, versus $66,704 for those employed by governments.

Private sector managers earned $76,539 a year, versus $87,795 for those in the public sector.

The Chamber of Commerce findings contradict the state Department of Personnel's 2006 state salary survey, even though both used payroll information provided to the state.

State employee pay, according to the Personnel Department survey, was 19.2 percent less than private industry pay for similar types of jobs.

The Personnel Department study also found a disparity between the average annual state employee salary, $49,721, and public employees in Nevada's larger counties, who earned $56,537 on average.

Personnel Department officials could not be reached to comment on the discrepancy between their survey and the chamber study.

At the time, the Personnel Department study was criticized because its private industry salary information was based on only 50 major hospitals, casinos, banks and construction companies.

"Most people are employed by smaller companies," said Cara Roberts, the Chamber of Commerce's director of public relations.

The chamber's study comes as legislators prepare for a special session scheduled to begin Friday to address a $250 million state budget shortfall. Among the proposals expected to be discussed is eliminating or postponing 4 percent pay increases due July 1 for state employees and teachers.

Roberts said that was coincidental.

"We aren't putting these numbers out there to make a point in the short term," she said. "If lawmakers find them useful, that is fine.

"We started out a few months ago on these studies," Roberts added. "We didn't have any idea the governor was going to call a special session."

Steve Hill, who until recently served as the chamber's chairman of government affairs, said the study was not released "to stir up" controversy during the special session. But he hopes legislators consider whether state and other public employees should be given the 4 percent cost-of-living increases.

Postponement of the increase would save the state $130 million.

"At this point it doesn't look like it will be their high priority," Hill said. "But if it (the study information) is helpful in the public debate, then that is a good thing."

In addition to the cost-of-living increase, 57 percent of state employees and 67 percent of teachers also are slated to receive 4.5 percent "grade in step increases."

In an interview last week, Roberts noted that state employees are receiving increases in pay at a time when most private companies in Southern Nevada are offering their employees limited or no increases because of the sluggish economy.

Compdata Survey, a firm that analyzes compensation, reported June 4 that companies nationwide are offering on average 3.6 percent pay increases this year, virtually the same as during the past three years. In a report released in September, Culpepper, another research firm, estimated an average of 3.9 percent pay increases for employees in 2008.

The raise averages lag slightly behind a 4.2 percent change in the consumer price index for 12 months ending in May.

State worker groups have long complained that wages paid by local governments in Nevada's largest counties are far higher than what state government pays.

A second Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce study, also released today, supports that theory.

The typical state worker received median pay of $48,491 in 2006, or 2.4 percent more than the national $47,343 average for workers in all states. That placed Nevada state pay 15th highest compared with state pay in other states.

Local government workers in Nevada received $51,332, or 15.6 percent more than the $44,397 national average for local government employees. That is eighth highest for local government pay nationwide.

Hobbs, Ong & Associates and Applied Analysis prepared the studies for the chamber. The firms have in the past prepared a wide variety of studies, including some for government.

"We are in the role of analysts as opposed to advocates," Aguero said. "It is not our duty to determine public policy."

Aguero was surprised by some of the findings.

He found that at 41.4 local and state government employees per 1,000 residents, Nevada has the fewest public employees on a per capita basis in the nation.

He also found that classroom teachers in Nevada receive annualized pay of $44,354, about 6 percent less than the national average. Higher education instructors, or professors, in Nevada earn $63,883, about five percent less than the national norm.