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It’s good to be in government

Nevada governments don’t have a revenue problem. They have a payroll problem.

How big is the problem? Check TransparentNevada.com and see for yourself.

Today the website, run by the Nevada Policy Research Institute, makes available complete 2012 payroll data from 58 Nevada government entities. All this public information can be accessed through a searchable database by name, job title and jurisdiction — going back six years.

Nevada has some of the highest-paid government workers in America — recent studies by Applied Analysis for the Las Vegas Metro Chamber of Commerce have spelled out as much. And those salary surveys don’t take into consideration the otherworldly retirement benefits afforded Nevada’s public employees.

TransparentNevada breaks down what every public employee has received in base pay, overtime, other pay, benefits and, most importantly, total compensation. That’s the total cost you, the taxpaying public, of each employee on government payrolls.

Businesses are struggling, state unemployment is the highest in the nation and private-sector wages are flat. Yet in 2012, more than 22,000 of Nevada’s 132,000 public employees received at least $100,000 in total compensation. Five thousand received at least $150,000 in total compensation, and more than 1,200 received at least $200,000.

Highly paid employees can be found across all governments, but some payrolls, on a per-employee basis, are much higher than others. Southern Nevada police officers and firefighters dominate the list of highest-paid workers. Meanwhile, state of Nevada employees, on average, are paid significantly less than their local-government peers.

Two noteworthy trends in compensation data: NPRI President Andy Matthews said the number of Clark County firefighters earning more than $200,000 in total compensation dropped from 199 in 2010 to 92 in 2012. No doubt that’s a result of increased scrutiny of department schedules in the aftermath of documented sick leave abuse by firefighters. And after declining last year, the number of city of Las Vegas firefighters earning more than $200,000 dramatically increased, from 79 in 2011 to 130 in 2012, Mr. Matthews said.

Providing taxpayers and elected officials with immediate access to this information is important in shaping state policies. Officials propose increasing taxes at every level of government, every year, primarily to meet and grow payroll. Yet our governments have little direct control over their largest single expense.

That’s because most public employees, covered by collective bargaining agreements, are guaranteed annual salary increases for each year of service and, in many cases, raises for meeting minimum performance standards or completing additional training. Their pay raises can’t be blocked unless their union supports it or an arbitrator orders it. Some unions, to their credit, have agreed to salary freezes in recent years. Others haven’t. However, year-by-year negotiations do very little to change the underlying, unsustainable salary schedules and structures.

Demanding that employees of businesses take home even less so government employees can take home more is unfair. But the disconnect is much worse when the overall pay gap between Nevada’s public and private sectors is taken into account.

Businesses and taxpayers are much less inclined to support tax increases of any kind when their existing taxes are spent in such an inefficient, inequitable fashion. Why must we have crowded middle school and high school classrooms so first responders can take home six figures? Why do we tolerate substandard mental health care so local government bureaucrats can earn more than judges, then retire in their 50s? Increasingly, the argument that separate tax streams fund separate governments with separate elected stewards doesn’t fly.

The Legislature has long had the ability to make better use of our limited dollars. But lawmakers refuse to consider major government reforms, whether they address collective bargaining shortcomings, Nevada’s overly generous, underfunded pension plan, or the flawed distribution of existing tax dollars. True “revenue reform” would put greater emphasis on the delivery of essential services and less emphasis on making thousands of public employees wealthy.

Go to TransparentNevada.com. Look at the salary data yourself. Then decide whether Nevada governments need more of your money.

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