A new reality

Several years ago, during considerably better economic times, the only place you could find criticism of unsustainable local government pay raises was on this page.

Today, with tax revenues plummeting and no recovery on the horizon, local elected officials have been forced to confront the consequences of their labor largess: an ever-expanding payroll they can't meet without budget cuts and union concessions.

On Monday, Clark County released a 15-page report that compares its wages and a decade's worth of pay raises to those provided by the cities of Las Vegas, Henderson and North Las Vegas and regional entities such as the Las Vegas Valley Water District and the Southern Nevada Health District. The key finding: The generous "cost-of-living" raises awarded to most government employees exceeded inflation, some by wide margins.

Over the past 10 years, the Consumer Price Index rose by 31 percent. But county firefighters received COLAs worth 46 percent, health district worker COLAs boosted their pay more than 50 percent, and Las Vegas and Henderson police enjoyed cost-of-living increases of 45 percent and 44 percent, respectively.

Those figures don't include other compensation increases enjoyed by local public-sector workers, such as step and longevity raises. When those are considered, most government employees saw their wages more than double last decade.

Commissioners discussed the report during Tuesday's meeting. It's impossible to address a problem without first acknowledging it. Such a step would have been unthinkable in 2001, when everyone was rolling in piles of dough and public employee unions drove re-election campaigns.

It's a new reality in 2010. Taxpayers can't afford their governments anymore. We're encouraged that the all-Democrat commission is compiling and debating data that clearly support a new course in spending and collective bargaining.

But it won't mean a thing if they don't follow through and slam the brakes on so-called "cost-of-living" raises with no nexus to the valley's cost of living.