They're ba-ack. Nevadans for Nevada, the political action committee previously dedicated to derailing tax-restraint initiatives, is launching its most public -- and least honest -- campaign to date.
The ambiguously named bunch is not an umbrella for centrists. It's a front for the biggest public employee unions in Nevada. Its mission: to convince you that government workers need not partake in the sacrifice Gov. Brian Sandoval called for Monday in his first State of the State address.
The unions, accustomed to having their membership's compensation (and dues) grow every year regardless of economic conditions, hate the idea of pay cuts and pension reforms. They'll pull out all the stops to prevent future government hires from being moved into a defined-contribution, 401(k)-style retirement plan. And the prospect of banning collective bargaining for municipal and county workers? That's a hill to die for.
So Nevadans for Nevada is raising big bucks to pay for a P.R. blitz touting the plight of vulnerable public servants.
Only this time Nevadans for Nevada is not making its case to a judge, as it did in knocking down the Tax and Spending Control petition brought by then-state Sen. Bob Beers in 2006, and the Proposition 13-style initiative backed by the GOP's Sharron Angle in 2007. This fight will take place exclusively in the court of public opinion, where suffering taxpayers are wiser to the fact that public employees have it much better than the people who pay their salaries and benefits.
Because of that dynamic, don't expect the ads to be beacons of truth and transparency. They'll be designed to divert and deceive, to stoke fear and resentment, and to make you think lawmakers are considering false choices. And they certainly won't say, "Paid for by public employee unions."
That Nevada unions are taking such a dramatic and expensive step is proof that austerity-imposing reforms have a very good chance of clearing the 2011 Legislature and getting Gov. Sandoval's signature. Make no mistake, Nevada must rein in the personnel costs of all governments before their expanding payrolls make it impossible to provide adequate services. The multibillion-dollar unfunded liabilities of the state's pension system and retiree health care benefits threaten to bankrupt Nevada all by themselves.
The mailers you'll get won't mention that most public employees get COLAs and "step" raises just for sticking around another year, then "longevity" pay when those steps phase out. The ads won't show a public employee "retiring" in his 50s to begin collecting a six-figure pension, then taking another high-paying government job in another state. They won't show a worker's $100,000 parting check, paying out decades of unused sick leave. They won't mention that Nevada's government workers don't pay Social Security, meaning they get to take home more of their income than you do.
The issue will transcend the 2011 Legislature and become a focus of elections in 2012 -- from Nevada to New Jersey, from legislative races to the presidency. Public employee unions have become the Democratic Party's biggest donors and most powerful constituency. Indeed, government unions all but run the party. If Democrats try to raise taxes here and elsewhere on struggling businesses and working-class folks to protect the best-paid sector of the work force, they'll lose all credibility with voters -- and pay for it next year.
No one is asking public employees to move into the poor house. No one wants mass layoffs in the state with the country's highest unemployment rate. The private sector merely wants paycheck parity with the public sector. That's a reasonable, mainstream sentiment.
The nonsense that will be put forward by Nevadans for Nevada? Not so much.