Over the next four years, the Clark County Commission will either move its government onto a fiscally sustainable path or allow its employee unions to finish burying taxpayers under the crushing burden of public-sector salaries and retirement benefits.
No issue today is more important for commissioners than the county’s runaway personnel costs. County workers typically get annual pay raises of between 7 and 10 percent regardless of their performance. The salaries of many positions, including janitors, security guards, maintenance workers and clerical staff in some cases double those of their private-sector peers, without considering their option to retire early with a generous pension and health care subsidy. The financial outlook for the county is so bad that even with revenue up 6 percent — a windfall in today’s economic climate — commissioners are scrimping on a number of services so they can dole out the largess promised to the county worker unions.
The taxpayer has no direct role in the collective bargaining process, so commissioners provide the public’s only hope in drawing a line with the unions and insisting that compensation increases be reined in when each contract comes up for renewal in the years ahead. With that in mind, the Review-Journal offers the following endorsements in this year’s election:
In District A, longtime Commissioner Bruce Woodbury is vacating his seat because of voter-approved term limits. Republican Brian Scroggins, Democrat Steve Sisolak and Independent American Scott David Narter are running to succeed him. The best bit of news for District A voters is the fact that the Las Vegas Police Protective Association, the union that represents Metropolitan Police Department officers, refused to endorse any of them.
Mr. Sisolak, a university system regent, says he’s "a firm believer that we cannot afford to pay every firefighter $120,000 and every policeman $100,000 per year." He has been a voice of reason on the Board of Regents, constantly questioning why incoming campus presidents must always be paid more than their predecessors. And Mr. Sisolak is an ardent defender of property rights.
Mr. Scroggins points out that everyone in the private sector "has to live with the ebb and flow of the economy," and that it’s not in the best interests of the county’s bargaining units "to bankrupt the system." As a contractor and sign company owner, Mr. Scroggins has a lot of experience with the county’s largely unaccountable planning, zoning, inspection and permit bureaucracies. He wants to make it less complicated for businesses to complete the projects that expand the county’s property tax rolls and create jobs. It’s a close call, but we think Brian Scroggins would best represent District A.
The voters of District B are not so fortunate. They must choose between incumbent Democrat Tom Collins, an ardent defender of county labor groups; Republican Gary Hosea, a county employee who believes police and firefighters are underpaid; and Libertarian Debra Payne-Dedmon. Mr. Collins, you’ll recall, was removed from the police Fiscal Affairs Committee by his colleagues on the commission a few years ago because he supported an overly generous contract the county couldn’t afford. Nowadays, Mr. Collins promises to "do something" about numerous costly overtime and callback provisions in public safety worker contracts, and reduce the number of "step" raises that drive county salaries so high, so quickly. The Review-Journal offers a tepid endorsement of Tom Collins in District B with the hope that he’ll stick to his word.
In District C, Commissioner Chip Maxfield, decided against seeking re-election. Las Vegas City Councilman Larry Brown, a Democrat; Assemblywoman Valerie Weber, a Republican; Libertarian Emily Klapproth; and Independent American Warren Ross Markowitz are vying for the seat.
Ms. Weber is acutely aware of the county’s problem with its personnel costs — she grew up in Vallejo, Calif., which just declared bankruptcy because of its giveaways to worker unions. "This is what we face in the future if we don’t address it," Ms. Weber says. She wants to streamline the county’s business development process and make the entire bureaucracy easier to navigate with the goal of giving confused constituents a "one-click, one-call government."
Mr. Brown has been an outstanding representative for the city’s Ward 4, which includes parts of District C. He has been a dedicated watchdog of the city’s budgeting process, helping save taxpayers millions of dollars by privatizing two northwest valley recreation centers. He currently chairs both the Clark County Regional Flood Control District and the Regional Transportation Commission of Southern Nevada.
We have two concerns with Mr. Brown. First, he doesn’t believe rapidly growing police costs are a problem; he supported the costly 2005 contract that was opposed by the Clark County Commission and county administrators. Second, he initially supported developer Bill Walters’ 2006 plan to build homes next to a sewage treatment plant on deed-restricted golf course land that once was owned by the city. It was a horrible deal for taxpayers, and it was killed amid public outcry and an investigation by the attorney general’s office.
But Mr. Brown’s experience and accomplishments outweigh his few mistakes. District C voters can’t go wrong with a vote for either Valerie Weber or Larry Brown.
Finally, District D incumbent Lawrence Weekly is being challenged by perennial candidate Tom McGowan of the Independent American Party. Mr. Weekly knows his district better than anyone, a testament to his service on the commission and on the Las Vegas City Council. The district is heavily dependent on government programs and services, so Mr. Weekly is more of an interventionist and distributor of taxpayer dollars than he is a steward. The Review-Journal endorses Lawrence Weekly in District D with the reminder that if he wants to keep handing out goodies to his constituents, he needs to significantly cut the growth rate of the county’s personnel costs to pay for it all.