Unlike the federal government, which prints money to hold off the ravages of bad economic times, local governments hit a fork in the road when expenses outpace revenues. At that point, cities, states and other non-federal governmental entities must choose between reforming public services or maintaining the status quo via higher taxes.
Nevada stands at that fork. In 2010, will our governments aim to serve or cut services to maintain the pay and benefits of public workers? The first approach can create excellence in government; the second produces a postal-like bureaucracy.
I was reminded of this truth by Tito Tiberti, one of Las Vegas’ finest citizens (and a loyal Las Vegas Review-Journal reader to boot). With the advent of e-mail and PDAs, you’d think Tito would just shoot me an e-mail with a link. But Tito is an old-school gentleman. He still engages his local newspaper publisher with the fine art of letter writing.
And so his communication arrived Christmas week via “snail mail” with the simple nameplate “Tito & Sandee Tiberti.” It began, “Dear Sherman,” and ended “Wishing you and your loved ones a Merry Christmas and the best in 2010!”
In between, Tito wrote one simple paragraph, which began: “Just read this article in today’s Wall Street (Journal) and thought of you.”
He enclosed a clipping of a 2-inch Associated Press story with the headline: “Subway, Bus Cuts Proposed.” It outlined how the powers that be within the New York City Transit Authority were faced with a $400 million revenue shortfall.
Tito recalled how well-meaning citizens and elected officials over the years — many who thought of themselves as “progressives” — bemoaned all of the “things” Las Vegas didn’t have to be a “successful” city. Yet this short clipping offered a cautionary lesson from one of the oldest cities in America. As Tito put it, with “every tax known to mankind,” New York can’t keep its mass transit promises.
As Nevadans begin 2010, we know the upcoming months will test the wisdom of good citizens and elected officials. Unless Nevadans wish to pay more and receive less, there’s not going to be enough money to go around next year.
What to do? Here’s a good prescription: Start with a no-nonsense evaluation of existing government services. Identify the services primary to the life and well-being of Nevadans.
Then, gather up all of the nest-feathering, job-killing public employee benefits — wildly generous pensions, preposterous side agreements, guaranteed overtime, ward-healing graft and no-work work rules — and eliminate them, resolving from that day forward to only pay a fair day’s government pay for a fair day’s government work.
That, I promise you, will solve Nevada’s budget problems. And, if it happens, Tito and I will buy every taxpayer in Las Vegas a drink to toast the new year.
In lieu of that miracle, however, may I suggest you grab your own stiff drink and hunker down for a 2010 crisis in government, from Reno to Henderson.
Sherman Frederick (sfrederick@ reviewjournal.com) is publisher of the Las Vegas Review-Journal and president of Stephens Media.