EDITORIAL: Labor reforms give governments control of budgets

As Nevada lawmakers consider $1 billion in tax increases to fund Gov. Brian Sandoval’s new education spending, they need to remember those dollars won’t go as far as they’d like without accompanying labor reforms.

The state law that allows local government employee unions to collectively bargain has enabled a decades-long assault on taxpayers and made it all but impossible for elected officials to control their largest expenses: salaries and benefits. Of course, a great many local elected officials like it that way. They collect campaign contributions from employee unions to guarantee their re-election while complaining their hands are tied.

Legislation heard Tuesday would untie those knots. Assembly Bill 280, sponsored by Erven Nelson, R-Las Vegas, makes collective bargaining optional. City councils, county commissions and school boards could opt out of negotiations with their bargaining groups and set salaries and benefits themselves.

The bill is not without precedent. The Legislature and the governor control state employee wages and benefits because state employees do not have the right to collectively bargain. AB280 would force candidates for local government boards to declare whether they favor collective bargaining or not — and whether they’d actually take steps to reset the ever-rising salary schedules that give them so little flexibility in budgeting and create constant pressure for higher taxes.

And during economic downturns, governments wouldn’t have to ask unions for concessions to prevent layoffs.

Speaking of layoffs, other labor reforms outlined in Assembly Bill 182 would allow governments to reduce their workforces under criteria other than seniority. AB182 also would prohibit the unionization of supervisors and prevent employees from being paid with government funds for on-the-clock union activities.

If the public must pay more for government, then government must have more control over how those dollars are spent. The Legislature should pass AB280 and AB182.

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