Sun comes to Earth

Geoffrey Lawrence

Uhhh … yeah. I’m confused, but they’re right.

The editorial staff at the Las Vegas Sun, that bastion of right-wing extremism, printed a column today that nails the problems with Clark County finances. As anyone who has followed the issue knows, local government employees in Nevada are among the best paid in the nation, and those in Clark County are especially well compensated.

The Sun staff points to a study commissioned by the Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce last year that shows local government workers in the Silver State earn, on average, 31 percent more than local government workers across the nation. They could have also highlighted a separate study that shows that the average government worker in Nevada earns 28 percent more than private-sector workers performing similar jobs.

The Clark County Fire Department has attracted especially significant attention for its out-of-control spending on firefighter salaries. Clark County firefighters earn an average of 42 percent more than New York City firefighters despite a much lower cost of living. Moreover, the firefighters’ union has been unyielding when it comes to preserving its members annual pay raises in the face of the county’s financial woes. (A full listing of compensation for every county employee is available at

The primary cause for these disparities is well-known to be the strong influence that public employees unions have on local and state politics in Nevada. The Sun article highlights the incestuous relationship between Clark County commissioners and public employees unions that has led to the inordinate salary-and-benefits packages offered to county employees. Professional politicians on the county commission are often in need of financial support from the unions in order to achieve electoral victory. Once elected, they often reward union workers for their support with overly generous compensation packages – only to have the tax dollars that are collected as union dues continue to flow back into their own coffers as campaign contributions.

As the Sun says:

The political dynamic in addressing this issue needs to be acknowledged, as the county gets ready to negotiate with unions whose contracts will end in the middle of the year, which is when the new fiscal year begins. The seven-member County Commission is made up of all Democrats, and employee unions tend to favor them over Republicans at election time. The employee unions are powerful and can make the difference in a close race.

Now that tax revenues have stopped ballooning, however, county commissioners are forced to recognize that the runaway growth in public employee compensation is putting a severe strain on county resources. County employees are eligible for a spate of annual pay increases that include: step increases, cost-of-living adjustments, longevity pay and merit raises. However, in a world constrained by limited resources, the inordinate compensation won by county workers means that the county is forced to employ fewer workers.

Murray Rothbard often wrote about how unions contribute to higher unemployment by squeezing some individuals out of the job market while others are paid beyond their productivity. To maintain that status, union workers often rely on violent means in order to benefit themselves at the expense of others. Shockingly, today’s Sun column takes at least a piece of that lesson to heart. It even advises that “commissioners can’t bend to the employee unions’ influence.” Well put.

It’s only fitting to end with the Sun’s conclusion:

Longevity pay ostensibly is about keeping veteran employees who might otherwise leave for better salaries, whether in the private sector or a different government agency. But such a benefit is hardly common in the private sector, and it strains credulity to defend it when county employee salaries are lucrative. In today’s age, longevity pay is an anachronism that should be discarded.

I couldn’t have said it better myself. Welcome aboard the fiscal accountability train, Las Vegas Sun. Perhaps this will provide some new fodder for Erin Neff’s paranoid rants.

Geoffrey Lawrence

Geoffrey Lawrence

Director of Research

Geoffrey Lawrence is director of research at Nevada Policy.

Lawrence has broad experience as a financial executive in the public and private sectors and as a think tank analyst. Lawrence has been Chief Financial Officer of several growth-stage and publicly traded manufacturing companies and managed all financial reporting, internal control, and external compliance efforts with regulatory agencies including the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.  Lawrence has also served as the senior appointee to the Nevada State Controller’s Office, where he oversaw the state’s external financial reporting, covering nearly $10 billion in annual transactions. During each year of Lawrence’s tenure, the state received the Certificate of Achievement for Excellence in Financial Reporting Award from the Government Finance Officers’ Association.

From 2008 to 2014, Lawrence was director of research and legislative affairs at Nevada Policy and helped the institute develop its platform of ideas to advance and defend a free society.  Lawrence has also written for the Cato Institute and the Heritage Foundation, with particular expertise in state budgets and labor economics.  He was delighted at the opportunity to return to Nevada Policy in 2022 while concurrently serving as research director at the Reason Foundation.

Lawrence holds an M.A. in international economics from American University in Washington, D.C., an M.S. and a B.S. in accounting from Western Governors University, and a B.A. in international relations from the University of North Carolina at Pembroke.  He lives in Las Vegas with his beautiful wife, Jenna, and their two kids, Carson Hayek and Sage Aynne.