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The scariest year-end list around

Your tax burden is scary enough. Then, every year, you’re pummeled with frightening news about all the ways your tax dollars are wasted.

It’s enough to give taxpayers nightmares.

Identifying the worst abusers of the public purse is like trying to find the foulest-smelling diaper at the Apex landfill. With so many choices, there are no losers.

But if we’re ever going to get a good night’s sleep again, we have to confront our fears and call out the fiends.

Forget the Ghost of Christmas Past. I give you the five worst taxpayer nightmares of 2011.

5. AARP. The single greatest obstacle to entitlement reform — and federal government solvency — is not an impotent Congress. It’s the collection of obstructionist, fear-spreading, lie-telling, do-nothing cranks affiliated with the acronym formerly known as the American Association of Retired Persons.

Social Security and Medicare are broke and unsustainable. The two programs have promised more than $100 trillion worth of future benefits that Washington can’t pay.

Any elected official who dares suggest raising the retirement age or reforming benefits for future recipients can expect an AARP smear campaign and conference rooms full of current recipients decrying any attempt to take what’s theirs. AARP actually believes the Social Security “trust” still exists.

AARP offers no solutions because it doesn’t think there’s a problem. The lobbying group brings nothing to the table but a demand to keep on paying. That’s a de facto call for European-level taxation on America’s younger generations.

Do America a favor, AARP. Retire.

4. Al Martinez. The president of Service Employees International Union Local 1107, the union that represents more than 9,000 rank-and-file Clark County workers, is a typical public-sector labor boss. That is to say his salary is based on the frequency and outrageousness of his exaggerations.

I kid. But Martinez wasn’t joking when he delivered this slap to the face of taxpayers in March, during a County Commission meeting on the government’s budget crisis and possible cuts: “Why does it have to be on the backs of our employees? … We need to hold the line and maintain what we have.”

From that quote, you might assume that county workers had accepted significant pay cuts and schedule reductions in previous years. Of course, you’d be wrong. Martinez’s so-called concessions amounted to reductions in pay raises. The average county worker’s salary has increased almost 13 percent since 2009 amid stifling private-sector unemployment.

Now Martinez won’t even negotiate with the county for a new contract because he wants to keep the fat perks the public can’t afford.

Martinez would be funny if he weren’t serious. That makes him downright scary.

3. Regional Transportation Commission. The eight-member board of elected officials put the valley’s lucrative bus contract out to bid, supposedly to encourage competition and score the best deal for local taxpayers. First Transit’s bid came in $50 million lower than the offer from incumbent Veolia Transportation — and the RTC board refused to authorize it as a favor to unionized Veolia workers.

The dispute dragged out almost all year, putting the parties in court and extending Veolia’s run at the helm of Citizens Area Transit under more expensive terms. The RTC board and the companies finally reached an agreement to end the litigation by throwing out the old bids, splitting the service into two regions and starting the bid process over again.

The RTC could have saved you money. Instead, they wasted gobs of cash just to make sure you pay more.

2. Clark County firefighters. These guys are a perennial lock for this list every year, what with their previous refusals to make salary concessions as social services were cut back. But this year’s fleecing of taxpayers was downright sick.

County management uncovered significant sick-leave abuse within the Fire Department. Some firefighters used sick leave to take vacations, and some coordinated their sick time months in advance to boost overtime wages for themselves and their colleagues. Far from fostering a department culture of frugality while taxpayers and businesses were struggling to survive the economic downturn, firefighters gamed the system to take you for all they could.

The biggest indicator sick-leave abuse was widespread: Firefighters’ use of sick leave has dropped significantly since the county caught on to the abuse and disclosed it.

Talk about getting hosed.

1. John Oceguera. The Assembly speaker is the clear pick for No. 1. The champion of public-sector unions would have made the list with just one good skinning of the public. Instead, he soaked us three times!

First, while leading the Democratic majority in cries for higher taxes to fund supposedly cash-starved state services, Oceguera spent more than $60,000 to build a gym inside the Legislative Building and add a conference room to his office. During a recession, apparently it was too much to ask busy lawmakers and staff to pay $10 a month for their own gym membership — assuming they want to work out in the first place.

Second, Oceguera double-dipped from his job as North Las Vegas assistant fire chief, collecting a salary from the Fire Department for hours he didn’t work while he was in Carson City drawing his legislative salary. He insisted he had done nothing wrong. Then, once caught by yours truly and the Nevada Policy Research Institute, he played dumb before refunding the public his ill-gotten pay after the 2011 session.

Third, as assistant fire chief, Oceguera helps oversee a department that is literally burning through its overtime budget. The North Las Vegas City Council budgeted $933,000 for firefighter overtime for the entire fiscal year, and the department had spent almost $740,000 of it through just the first quarter.

With runaway spending like that, where does Oceguera think he is? Washington?

Oh, that’s right. Oceguera is running for Congress next year, in the 3rd District against Republican Joe Heck.

One, two, John is coming for you. Three, four, better lock your door. Five, six, grab your crucifix. Seven, eight, gonna stay up late. Nine, ten, never sleep again.

Glenn Cook (gcook@reviewjournal.com) is a Review-Journal editorial writer.

 

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