By Thomas Mitchell
It is good to be a public servant in Nevada, downright lucrative in fact. The folks at the Nevada Policy Research Institute have crunched the Census data for 2017 and found the median earnings for local government workers in Nevada were 46 percent higher than for those in the private sector — $58,644 for local government workers per year, compared to $40,259 in the private sector. That 46 percent gap is the highest of any state in the nation.
Hawaii and California had the second and third highest gaps. Nevada local government workers had the fifth highest wages in the country, while private-sector workers came in at a distant 47th. NPRI is quick to point out that much of the pay disparity is due to differences in experience, education and other factors, but that does not negate the fact the Nevada gap is the highest in the nation. Also, NPRI notes that when Nevada’s local government workers health and retirement benefits and more generous paid leave are factored in the gap with the private sector widens to 57 percent.
For example, both state and local public workers contribute to the Nevada Public Employees’ Retirement System. Currently 28 percent of a worker’s salary is contributed to cover the cost of pensions — half from the taxpayers and half from the employee. The figure for police and fire employees is 40 percent to account for often shorter working
careers. But many local government unions have collectively bargained to have the taxpayers pick up all of the PERS contributions, effectively adding a hidden cost not seen in salaries alone.
“On a statewide basis, government pay and benefits cost taxpayers roughly $10 billion last year — which was equal to 80 percent of all tax revenue collected by every state and local government agency in Nevada,” notes NPRI policy director Robert Fellner. “Thus, in the event Nevada’s government pay gap continues its upward growth, the
resulting tax hikes necessary to sustain such excess may become too great to bear.”
Fellner argues, “Because such outsized pay packages come at the expense of taxpayers who earn much less themselves, elected officials should consider the fairness and sustainability of continually caving in to government unions’ endless demands for even more.”
Unlike state government employees, local government workers in Nevada are largely covered by union contracts. State government workers generally are paid more than those in the private sector, but less than local government employees.
In past legislative sessions, lawmakers have attempted to allow state government workers to unionize, though they should instead take away the right of local government workers to unionize. The unions hold too strong a sway over local elected officials who must bargain with the unions over wages.
None other than the icon of progressivism, Franklin D. Roosevelt, said in a 1937 letter: “All Government employees should realize that the process of collective bargaining, as usually understood, cannot be transplanted into the public service. It has its distinct and insurmountable limitations when applied to public personnel management.”
He went on to add, “The very nature and purposes of Government make it impossible for administrative officials to represent fully or to bind the employer in mutual discussions with Government employee organizations. The employer is the whole people …” Who is the servant and who is the boss?
Thomas Mitchell is a former newspaper editor who now writes conservative/libertarian columns for weekly papers in Nevada. You mayemail Mitchell at firstname.lastname@example.org. He blogs at http://4thst8.wordpress.com/.