Nevada's New Class, Part III

By Steven Miller
  • Monday, November 10, 2003

It was easy to predict. All you had to notice was how complicit Clark County and the cities of Las Vegas and Henderson have been in the deceit their double-dipping state-lawmaker employees were perpetrating on local taxpayers.

For years as the scam went on, local authorities carefully looked the other way. Yet their simultaneous fight against compliance with the federal Hatch Act—which in effect bans the scam—revealed their complicity.

It wasn’t hard to see that much of the Nevada political establishment believes it has a big vested interest in keeping the playing field tilted against citizens and in favor of government apparatchiks.

Nor did you have to be Nostradamus to foresee that, just as soon as it regrouped, the political class would launch a counter-offensive to keep as much of this system in place as possible.

That campaign is now in full flower, with State Senator Dina Titus, Gov. Kenny Guinn and Assembly Speaker Richard Perkins out front. All are plumping for a new state law to “educate” government-employee-lawmakers that it’s a no-no to soak state and local taxpayers at the same time, defrauding both.


Of course, under this so-called reform, Nevada’s most serious problem—the unconstitutional power advantage the tax-consuming political class has over average taxpayers—would continue unchecked. Government bureaucrats would continue operating under a false flag in the Legislature—using the title of “Senator” or “Assemblyman,” while really just unregistered, voting, super-lobbyists for ever-bigger government budgets.

That so shameless a “remedy” gets proposed at all shows desperation in the state’s current political leadership. It also shows how dependent this leadership is on the public-employee-union political machines at the center of Nevada’s New Class power structure.

Run by highly paid professionals, it was these very effective political operations that put virtually every one of Nevada’s now-infamous double-dipping government employees into the state legislature. But it doesn’t stop there. These organizations also are major players in the elections of county and city officials—many of whom regularly disregard the public interest to rubber stamp the desires of these same government unions.

One example out of scores: In last September’s primaries Local 1107 of the Service Employees International Union endorsed Myrna Williams and Mark James for the Clark County Commission.

“As a union representing more than 12,000 members you can be sure our votes made a difference,” boasted local 1107 after the primary. “When we vote together, we win.”

This April Williams and James, both now on the commission, returned the favor—passing into law a more-than-30-percent salary increase for county workers over the next four years.

There’s a revealing phrase that’s popular with political activists inside America’s—and Nevada’s—two biggest government employee unions: “As government employees, we elect our bosses.” Do an Internet search and you’ll find that phrase on multiple AFSCME (American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees) and SEIU websites. You’ll also find the concept saturating the strategies of the National Education Association—the teacher union that, in Nevada, goes under local names, like “Clark County Education Association.”

Unfortunately for the rest of us, these massive government-employee unions also disproportionately elect our bosses. These union members have major financial incentives to participate in state, county, city and school board elections—much more than private citizens do.

David Denholm, president of the Public Service Research Foundation, illustrates the perverse incentives: “Let’s say you are a public employee,” he says, “and that in order to get a 5 percent increase in pay, taxes will have to be raised by 4 percent.”

In this situation, notes Denholm, a government employee making $30,000 a year and paying $2,000 in state and local taxes each year already will love an additional $80 per year tax hike. Why? Because after his $1,500 raise, he nets $1,480 more each year. The private-sector employee? He’s simply $80 poorer each year.

Studies show that government employees participate in elections at a rate 40 percent greater than private-sector citizens. This is the big reason why.

Here in Nevada, local government employees have quietly over the years pushed their salaries not only much higher than average Nevadans’, but also higher than comparable positions in 45 of the 50 states. That’s what U.S. Census Bureau figures show.

There have been two major causes: First, the unconstitutional power the unions were given to place their members in the state Legislature, and second, a further grant of compulsory collective “bargaining rights.”

Neither privilege is consistent with government of the people. We need reform.

Steven Miller is policy director for the Nevada Policy Research Institute.

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