It’s hard to imagine a more cynical political exercise than Tuesday’s “Bridging the Budget Gap” presentation at Henderson’s Heritage Park Senior Facility.
In the audience were some of the city’s most vulnerable residents, who use social services that consume a relatively small share of the city’s general fund. They listened as highly paid members of the government’s administration outlined potential cuts to those services as a way to balance future budgets and address an infrastructure funding shortfall — while leaving untouched the incredibly generous salaries and benefits of those administrators and other city workers, which will consume more than 82 percent of Henderson’s operating budget in the coming fiscal year. The city is considering a property tax increase as well.
It was not lost on some taxpayers that Henderson officials are ignoring their biggest expense in paring back spending while pushing the public to pay more for less.
As reported by the Review-Journal’s Arnold Knightly, the city’s Special Budget Ad Hoc Committee recommended service cuts and a tax increase, in part, because its members were told employee salaries and benefits were off limits. Most city employees are unionized and negotiate their salaries and benefits through collective bargaining, leaving the public’s stewards almost no direct control over the bulk of the budget.
Those personnel costs will continue to grow and squeeze out services, no matter how much taxes are raised and services are cut. But the appropriate response for city leaders is not to ignore payroll and hammer the public, it’s to push hard for major pension and collective bargaining reforms and the creation of a new salary structure to reflect parity with the private sector. But in Henderson and elsewhere, elected officials don’t want to pick fights with the unions who help them win re-election. So the cycle continues. Despite the Great Recession and job cuts, Henderson’s $225.5 million budget has never been larger.
Yes, the city is conducting a study on employee salaries and benefits and how they compare to the private sector and other government entities. But there’s already plenty of data to show the city’s salary structure is out of whack. A brief spin through the Nevada Policy Research Institute’s TransparentNevada.com website reveals hundreds upon hundreds of workers who receive more than $100,000 in total compensation. Hundreds are well above $150,000.
These workers are guaranteed rich pensions upon an early retirement, and the city wants to cut back the transportation, food assistance and social activities of cash-poor seniors?
Henderson’s problem is its payroll. Period.