Plotting the ‘right course’

As the gravy train brakes to avoid the looming cliff, the partying passengers raise hell over last call.

It’s a common scenario throughout the country. States facing massive budget holes have inevitably turned their attention to generous public-sector pay and benefits. Government workers and their unions resist.

On Wednesday, Gov. Brian Sandoval announced that he wants state employees — not including teachers — to take a 5 percent pay cut rather than furlough for one day a month, as they have been doing for more than a year.

The difference is negligible as far as costs go — the furloughs are equivalent to a 4.6 percent pay reduction — but Gov. Sandoval said the unpaid days off were more difficult to manage than straight pay cuts and created hardships for taxpayers depending on government services.

The governor added that he and his staff would take the same pay cut he asks of state workers and that he would refuse a 6 percent raise he is entitled to this year.

“I believe this is the right course,” said Gov. Sandoval, who must find about $1 billion in savings to balance his spending plans with available revenues.

The boilerplate response was immediate.

“Almost 10 days before his State of the State address to Nevada, the governor has shown his hand for what’s in store for state workers in his budget — more work and less pay,” said the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 4041 in a news release.

It is tempting to wonder in what alternative universe the AFSCME leadership resides.

Most workers in Nevada’s battered private sector – if they still work at all – have been forced to do more for less for almost three years as companies from Las Vegas to Reno to Elko struggle to survive. Raises are minuscule, even nonexistent. Benefit cuts are common. Entire sectors of a once-thriving economy have withered and died. Foreclosures dominate the housing market. Population growth is a distant memory.

Meantime, public-sector employees for the most part continue to enjoy rock-solid job security, automatic step raises, overtime and lavish benefits and pensions – all funded by tax contributions from the very same private-sector workers who scrimp each month to make their mortgage payments.

The governor’s proposal is sound, right and just. Pay cuts are certainly preferable to furloughs or layoffs from a customer service standpoint, and it’s simply inevitable that state employees share in the sacrifice necessary to ensure Nevada stays within its means through the lingering economic downturn.

“That seems a little tough,” said state Sen. Mike Schneider, a Las Vegas Democrat, signaling likely opposition in the Legislature to the governor’s proposal.

Perhaps. But tough times require tough decisions. The governor must stand firm on this issue.

The gravy train is about to run off the tracks.

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