Domestic partners

Not even the worst of financial times in Nevada can curb the state bureaucracy's urge to transfer wealth from the private sector to the public sector. Witness the extraordinary efforts now ongoing by lawmakers, education officials and teacher unions to preserve 4 percent cost-of-living pay raises for state workers amid a billion-dollar budget deficit and rising unemployment.

Then there's the work by the Public Employees Benefits Program board to expand taxpayer-subsidized health insurance to the domestic partners of state workers. Thus far, the board has presented an all-or-nothing approach: If the public won't pick up the entire bill for medical coverage for unmarried, live-in companions, then the proposal will be dropped.

It's hard to make the argument that extending benefits to gay partners and longtime girlfriends or boyfriends is sound public policy if state workers are unwilling to bear any of the costs associated with expanding their health plan's risk pool. As it is, state workers with no dependents pay almost nothing for their health care, while married workers pay only 16 percent of their spouses' premiums -- taxpayers cover the rest.

Set aside the issue of whether couples who aren't married or same-sex partners should receive the same recognition from the state as married workers. Private companies are free to offer health insurance to workers' domestic partners, so the state should be, too.

The difference between the two scenarios, of course, is that a private company would expect all its workers to share much of the cost of any benefit expansion. The Public Employees Benefits Program board, meanwhile, believes state workers should take no ownership of a benefit purportedly needed to improve recruitment and retention.

On Monday, the Legislative Commission wisely tabled the proposal. Lawmakers said they want to hear some alternatives to the board's plan.

Good. Their first option should be to pass the entire estimated $2.7 million-per-year cost of the domestic partner plan on to state workers. Health care and retirement subsidies for state workers are generous enough -- if public employees want more gravy, they should pour it on at their own expense.