It is now all but certain that state employee pay cuts will be part of the Legislature's 2009-11 budget solution. Majority Democrats roundly dismissed the idea when Gov. Jim Gibbons proposed salary reductions in January to make up for declining tax collections without layoffs, saying such a step symbolized the Republican's lack of leadership. Worsening revenue projections have brought them on board.
The devastation of the Nevada economy creates strange bedfellows, indeed.
This apparent agreement on one part of the state's general fund is nothing to celebrate. Far too many people have lost income, jobs, businesses and homes over the past two years. That economic hardship will visit yet another sector of the work force is regrettable, but it's necessary to avoid further damage.
Many state employees, especially teachers and public school employees, are sympathetic figures. The same cannot be said for the leaders of their unions.
Leading the parade of clueless belligerence is Dennis Malory, chief of staff of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 4041. Mr. Malory has never hidden his unabashed hostility toward the businesses that pay for his members' generous salaries and benefits.
Recall that last summer, when tourism began its precipitous dropoff, unemployment was rising and Nevada government finances were tumbling downhill, Mr. Malory was apoplectic at the suggestion that the state postpone or cancel a 4 percent pay raise for all state workers.
The Legislature and the governor foolishly caved, taking the reckless step of tapping a line of credit and putting the state in debt to pay for the raises, which took effect July 1. Coupled with the "step" raises that many state workers receive for each year of service, a majority of state workers received pay raises of between 8 and 9 percent last year -- when thousands of private-sector workers were dealing with pay cuts and layoffs.
Lawmakers now realize what a colossal mistake they made. There is bipartisan support for revoking that pay raise this July and blocking seniority-based raises to boot.
It is the kind of decision that countless Nevada employers have had to make in recent months. And it is far preferable to cutting jobs and putting even more people in the unemployment line. There simply isn't the money or the economic activity to avoid it.
Mr. Malory isn't happy. He wants his money and his pound of flesh.
"Big business had better be at the table," he said Monday. "It better not end with our people. If they (business leaders) don't come to the table, I'll help the speaker (Barbara Buckley) take the table to them."
Mr. Malory's arrogance and ignorance are an embarrassment to the people he's supposed to represent. What does he think is happening in this state? It's not enough that tens of thousands of Nevadans are expected to lose their private-sector jobs this year, that thousands more foreclosures will flood the housing market, that workers have seen their retirement investments tank and employers are hanging on for dear life? And now he wants them to pay even higher taxes so his members can keep a pay raise they never should have gotten in the first place?
Right behind Mr. Malory is Lynn Warne, president of the Nevada State Education Association. On Tuesday, Ms. Warne said the union "realizes the economic situation of this state," but leveled another warning that if lawmakers don't come through with economy-killing tax hikes, the association will ask a judge to order as much.
"We are still talking about filing a (funding) adequacy lawsuit," she said. "We need to see what funding levels come out at the end of the session."
Teacher salaries and benefits are the largest part of the education budget. Boosting education spending, by default, means significantly raising teacher salaries.
Nothing would annihilate public good will toward teachers faster than court-ordered tax increases.
Perhaps Mr. Malory and Ms. Warne would like to leave the security of government employment and try the uncertainty of the private sector, where there are no guarantees and no lifetime pensions?
We didn't think so.