The rhetoric regarding Nevada’s budget crisis reflected exhasperation and anger.
“For once, come up with a solution so we don’t have to cut again,” said Assembly Ways and Means Chairman Morse Arberry, D-Las Vegas.
“At some point, somebody’s going to have to come up with some solutions instead of giving us a death warrant,” said university system Chancellor Jim Rogers.
Only these bitter words weren’t spoken during Friday’s special legislative session in Carson City. They were uttered more than seven months ago, at the dawn of Nevada’s revenue shortfall, when the state’s budget deficit was estimated at $285 million.
Now it’s four times that figure. And yet, on Friday, lawmakers calmly passed budget-balancing legislation with efficiency, blowing through bills as though they were dealing with petty cash discrepancies.
Meanwhile, in downtown Las Vegas, the Nevada chapter of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees rallied outside the Sawyer Building, demanding that lawmakers protect a 4 percent pay raise set to take effect Tuesday, even though lawmakers and Gov. Jim Gibbons had declared previously that the pay raise would be left intact.
What should the public make of these two events following months of doomsday cries from politicians, government workers and their pundit enablers that Nevada is on the brink of becoming a Third World country? Taxpayers can reasonably conclude that Nevada’s budget “crisis” isn’t a crisis at all — not yet, at least.
Considering thousands upon thousands of private-sector workers are suffering income reductions and job losses, the 100 or so state workers who rallied Friday might have considered displaying a giant “Thank you, taxpayers” card instead of so much indignation. They neglected to mention that the vast majority of state workers, including schoolteachers, already receive an annual “step” raise of about 5 percent, giving them a boost in pay of nearly 10 percent come next week.
Legislators’ focused efforts Friday were made solely to preserve those generous pay raises. Yes, they assured the electorate that nothing could be cut from the budget last year. But the threat of smaller pay raises for government workers miraculously coincided with the discovery of more fat. Come February, these same lawmakers will propose more pay raises for state workers, no matter how bad the economy gets.
When the state starts laying workers off and freezing their pay, we might believe there’s serious trouble.
But not before.