Raggio criticizes county pay hikes

CARSON CITY — Senate Minority Leader Bill Raggio on Thursday criticized Clark County government officials for offering cost-of-living raises to its employees when state government might be forced to cut salaries by 6 percent.

“This is way off the mark for a local government to negotiate for COLAs (cost-of-living increases) when the state generally recognizes that, if we are going to balance the budget, we are going to have cuts,” the Reno Republican said during a Senate-Assembly hearing on education spending.

In response, Clark County spokesman Erik Pappa said county administration wants to reduce COLAs but is “contractually obligated” to provide the pay increases.

“We have had meetings with the unions on a regular basis since November, and we are seeking to reduce labor costs,” he said. “We cannot reduce any of these costs unless unions agree.”

Representatives of Service Employees International Union Local 1107 have said they have no intention of changing the county pay structure.

The governor has proposed cutting the salaries of state employees, including teachers and professors, to bridge a massive revenue shortfall.

Wages for Clark County employees are still increasing about 6 percent a year on average, including cost-of-living pay increases, county officials have said. A 3 percent cost-of-living increase is scheduled to go into effect in July.

Raggio noted that public employees in Reno recently agreed to a 2.5 percent reduction in pay to avoid layoffs.

“No one likes the idea of 6 percent cuts, but no one has identified where we will get additional revenue,” Raggio said. “We have to recognize that some cuts may be necessary. The message is some of the public employee groups should recognize the concerns of our constituents.”

He said Nevada’s share of the federal stimulus package “won’t go very far” in covering what the Gibbons administration has identified as a $1.8 billion shortfall in funding. Some say that less than $500 million of the estimated $1.5 billion in stimulus funds coming to Nevada could be used to cover that gap.

While expressing opposition to cuts to education funding, Assembly Speaker Barbara Buckley, D-Las Vegas, agreed with Raggio that the Legislature will have to make some reductions.

“Probably every major area of the state is going to have to absorb some cuts,” she said.

Democratic leaders expect to have a plan ready by April 17 on how they would deal with the spending gap. They have yet to publicly support specific tax increases.

The governor wants to cut the spending of school districts by 2.6 percent.

“The bottom line is we may have to go into a layoff situation,” said Clark County School District Superintendant Walt Rulffes, adding the district might cut its work force by 1,000 and increase class sizes.

Nevada would remain 49th among the 50 states and the District of Columbia in its support for public education. Nevada Deputy Superintendant of Public Instruction Jim Wells said the budget plan calls for the state to pay the school districts an average of $4,968 per student in the coming year. Only Arizona and Utah pay less in basic support for students, he said.

“Do you have a plan to bring us out of this, so we no longer will be the lowest in the country?” Assemblyman Morse Arberry, D-Las Vegas, asked Wells. “I have been here 20 some years, and all we do is throw money at it and we still are at the bottom.”

A Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce study last year found the typical state worker received median pay of $48,491 in 2006, or 2.4 percent more than the $47,343 average for workers in all states. Local government workers in Nevada received $51,332, or 15.6 percent more than the $44,397 national average for local government employees.

The study also found that classroom teachers in Nevada receive annualized pay of $44,354, about 6 percent less than the national average. Higher education instructors, or professors, in Nevada earn $63,883, about 5 percent less than the national norm.

Both teachers and higher education personnel also are slated for 6 percent budget cuts in Gibbons’ budget.

Contact Capital Bureau Chief Ed Vogel at evogel@reviewjournal.com or 775-687-3901.

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