Every week, NPRI President Andy Matthews writes a column for NPRI's week-in-review email. If you are not getting our emails, which contain our latest commentaries and news stories, you can sign up here to receive them.
Liberals to taxpayers: Please ignore your lying eyes
Any time you shine a light on the practices of government, you’re bound to hit a nerve. That was certainly the case with my recent commentary in the Las Vegas Review-Journal, which highlighted 2012 employee-compensation data for the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department, posted recently at TransparentNevada.com.
The commentary drew the ire of liberal RJ columnist Steve Sebelius, who accuses NPRI of, among other wrongs, distorting the data.
Sebelius argues that the compensation levels I referenced in the commentary — including 149 Metro employees who brought in more than $200,000 last year — were misleading, because I supposedly implied that these numbers reflected salaries alone, rather than the total compensation levels (salary plus benefits, overtime, etc.) they actually represented.
It’s a curious charge, inasmuch as I very clearly used the term “total compensation” in the piece. One is tempted to assume that Sebelius simply missed this, except that in his own column, he cites my use of the term “total compensation.” Apparently, to Sebelius, to use the term “total compensation” when one really means “total compensation” is misleading.
Furthermore, there’s a reason why, when it comes to Metro, it’s important to focus on the total compensation figures, rather than just on base salaries — as Sebelius would clearly prefer to do. That’s because department employees receive, in addition to their base pay, compensation in more than a dozen other categories, many of which are nearly unheard of in the private sector. These categories include not only health benefits and overtime pay, but also longevity pay, call-back pay, uniform allowance, shift differential pay, payments for unused vacation and sick days upon retirement, and more.
In fact, when one looks at captains, lieutenants, sergeants and officers as separate classes, the average employee in each enjoys a benefits package worth more than 50 percent of the base pay. And that still doesn’t include multiple other categories of compensation.
So to report only the base pay would fall far short of providing an accurate depiction of what Metro employees actually cost taxpayers. And to present base pay alone as “total compensation” would be highly inaccurate and misleading.
Sebelius is free to argue that these total compensation levels are justifiable. That he chooses not to, but opts instead to pretend that the data (provided to NPRI by Metro itself, by the way) is somehow flawed, suggests that even he recognizes the weakness of such an argument.
In my commentary, I noted that the release of this compensation data comes at a time when Metro is pushing for a sales-tax hike in order to increase the department’s funding, and is issuing ominous warnings that a failure to secure new revenues will threaten public safety.
Again Sebelius takes issue with my point, writing: “And how’s this for irony: NPRI complains about six-figure salaries augmented in many cases by overtime pay. But if we were to pass the quarter-cent sales tax and hire more officers, we wouldn’t need to pay so much overtime.”
The real irony, however, is that Sebelius is advancing this argument when not even Metro itself is pretending the tax hike would be used just to hire more officers. While that was indeed the originally stated justification for the tax increase in 2004, Metro is now seeking “flexibility” in how to spend the money — meaning the new funds will be used to maintain or even increase current employees’ already-exorbitant compensation levels.
Finally, Sebelius finds a contradiction in the fact that NPRI operates a government-transparency website but doesn’t release its own salaries and donors. Surely Sebelius, as a member of the press, grasps the difference between financial information on private entities — funded only by those who willingly choose to do so — and public ones — which we are all forced to fund, whether we like it or not.
And that is exactly why NPRI created TransparentNevada to begin with. Taxpayers deserve to know how and where their money is being spent, and they’re free to visit the site, view the data and decide for themselves whether public funds are being allocated wisely. In the meantime, we at NPRI will keep supplying this crucial information — no matter how many nerves we strike.
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