The county punts

If you’ve just lost your job, you don’t tap your savings to substitute filet mignon for sirloin. You don’t use your reserves to upgrade from basic cable to premium channels. And you certainly don’t begin making investments in Megabucks as a strategy to regain income.

No, you downgrade to hamburger. You cancel cable TV. And you don’t take foolish flyers with your finances — you stretch your savings as long as possible, knowing you have no way of knowing how long you’ll be out of work.

But Clark County prefers the former course. After months of talking a good game about finally addressing a root cause of massive revenue shortfalls — unsustainable growth in county employee compensation — the County Commission blinked Monday. It punted on third down, approving a 2010-11 budget that, at least for now, bails out public employee unions that insist on collecting generous pay raises, even as local tax collections continue to decline.

The only sane way to deal with a projected budget deficit of more than $120 million is a combination of layoffs and concessions from bargaining groups. Because county unions have shown no interest in having their members get by with what they have now — let alone less — commissioners had a responsibility to taxpayers to take a tough bargaining position.

Instead, they swiped $55 million from a capital fund, $47.3 million from their general fund reserves and used $20 million in one-time federal reimbursements to plug the budget’s hole.

That’s $120 million that won’t be available next year. Blowing that money now is akin to the aforementioned Megabucks pull — it’s a prayer that the valley’s economy will turn around quickly and provide government with the windfall it needs to avoid making the cuts that should have been authorized Monday.

Sure, county leaders made assurances Monday that they still intend to get tough with their employee unions.

“There are going to be more layoffs,” County Manager Virginia Valentine said.” And we are going to have to have some concessions on our labor contracts.”

Commissioner Rory Reid, a Democratic candidate for governor, offered, “We’re not done. This is a snapshot.”

If the county can’t pull the trigger on large-scale layoffs by now, with its budget deadline looming, unions have little reason to be fearful — and even less reason to take immediate pay cuts.

The bill for the county’s free spending on personnel has come due. By refusing to pay now, commissioners are ensuring that taxpayers will pay more later.

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