Where to cut: Public employee salaries

Victor Joecks

Public employees keep receiving pay increases.

The headline from the RJ says it all: “Public employees’ pay keeps rising.”

Government employees in Nevada continued to get healthy raises during 2009, while the average privately employed Nevadan took a pay cut, according to a new report from the Nevada Department of Employment Training and Rehabilitation. The raise gap was especially evident for those employed in Clark County.

“Nevada Employment and Payrolls 2009,” when compared to the 2008 edition of the report, shows the average private sector wage declined $13 a week, from $804 to $791. Local government employees, however, got about $47 more a week than they did in 2008; their average pay increased from $949 to $996.

That’s a pay cut of 1.6 percent for private workers, compared to a raise of nearly 5 percent for local government employees.

The difference was even more dramatic in Clark County.

Private sector wages dropped from an $808 average to $790 a week, while local government wages climbed from $990 to $1,052.

That’s a 2.2 percent cut for private workers, compared to a 6.2 percent raise for the local government employees.

How do their salaries keep increasing? Salary increases for which government employees are eligible include: cost-of-living adjustments, step increases, longevity, merit bonuses and more money for increased certifications. Even if some increases are eliminated, public employees can still receive overall salary increases, because they get a raise from another category. That is why even when public employees offer “concessions,” their salaries still increase. They aren’t taking a pay cut or freeze, they are just taking a decreased increase or, as it’s known in the private sector, a pay raise.

For instance, the Las Vegas firefighters union just approved a revised contract with $5.6 million in salary concessions. It sounds like firefighters will be getting a salary cut, but when you read the details of the contract, you find that most of these savings are from decreasing scheduled pay increases and that the firefighters are still receiving a salary increase in the upcoming year. Only in government do wage “cuts” result in a pay increase.

The next time someone bemoans the state of Nevada’s finances, remind them that it’s a spending problem, not a revenue problem, and that the increase in public employee salaries is one of the first places elected officials should look to cut.