Nevada's public employees nearly choked on their Wheaties earlier this year when Gov. Jim Gibbons proposed rolling back their generous salary increases -- including the hidden "step" hikes -- as a means of addressing the state's budget mess.
His plan was met with widespread derision by legislative Democrats and their media stenographers, who harshly criticized Gov. Gibbons for not abandoning his 2006 campaign pledge to hold the line on taxes.
In the end, however, state workers -- including public school teachers -- largely fended off the salary adjustments, meaning that while the state continues to bleed red ink, many of its employees this year received raises unheard of today in the struggling private sector.
It speaks volumes about Nevada's spending priorities. However, while public-sector benefits and compensation remain off the table here, officials in other states understand they can't seriously address their budget woes without confronting the issue.
Take little Rhode Island.
On Monday, Gov. Don Carcieri laid out his plan to balance his budget while dealing with a heavily unionized public sector and an unemployment rate in the private sector surpassed only by Michigan among the 50 states.
"There are going to be inconveniences for the public, and there are going to be sacrifices, as I said, for state employees," Gov. Carcieri said.
His plan? He'll shut down state government for a total of 12 days over the next 10 months, saving $22 million. Some 81 percent of the state's 13,550-member work force -- not including police, prison guards and child abuse workers -- would be forced to stay home without pay. This is on top of the fact that the state public employee union already agreed to give up a promised pay raise and to have workers pick up more of their own health insurance costs.
The Rhode Island public employees will almost certainly fight Gov. Carcieri's plan. Maybe they'll even win. But it's worth pointing out that -- in the context of the Ocean State and dozens of other states that have taken similar steps to keep the lights on -- Nevada's public-sector employees have had a pretty easy road, so far.