Transparent Nevada: Nevada’s Collective Bargaining Laws Enable Government Employees to Live High at Taxpayers’ Expense

Last year, Governor Brian Sandoval made $181,586.49 in total compensation.

How many government employees in Nevada made more than the governor?

One hundred, five hundred … maybe a thousand?

No, nope and not even close. Over 2,000 government employees in Nevada made more in total compensation than the governor in 2012. Those employees include, a community services director in Washoe County making $184,343 and the parks and recreation director in Henderson making $219,402.

Excess compensation isn’t just limited to agency directors in local governments, however. Ninety-one employees in the Clark County fire department made over $200,000, with three fire battalion chiefs each cashing in for over $249,000 in total compensation — with every dime, of course, coming from taxpayers.

This information comes from TransparentNevada.com — a website provided by the Nevada Policy Research Institute and dedicated to serving Nevada’s public by shining sunlight on all aspects of state, county and city government.

One of TransparentNevada’s main features is its listing of government-employee salaries from over 55 different government agencies in the state.

This salary data — gathered from public-records requests and now including over 132,000 employee records from 2012 — is fully searchable by name, job title and jurisdiction. It provides lawmakers, media members and citizens with a quick and easy way to see how much government employees actually make.

This information is especially pertinent as the 2013 Legislature considers a proposal to raise taxes while boosting state worker pay by eliminating furloughs. Last year, 2,289 state employees made over $100,000 in total compensation despite many of them taking six unpaid furlough days.

The Legislature is also considering raising the sales tax in Clark County to pay cops more. The Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department is pushing for the tax increase to fix what officials claim is a $50 million budget hole. Thanks to TransparentNevada though, it’s easy to see that Metro’s budget problems stem from out-of-control compensation.

In 2012, over 149 Metro employees took home more than $200,000 in total compensation, with one captain pocketing over $585,000 in total compensation. One lieutenant received over $354,000 in total compensation.

Salaries weren’t just high because of retiring officers cashing in sick leave when they retired. High compensation comes standard in Metro with 348 employees taking in over $175,000 and 2,204 employees making over $125,000.

In the City of North Las Vegas, officials are facing an $18-million-deficit next year. What’s a major cause? Sky-high compensation packages given to its police and firefighters.

Of the city’s 403 employees who made more than $150,000 in total compensation in 2012, 85 percent worked in public safety. One hundred and thirty-two worked in the fire department and 210 worked in police or corrections.

Controlling costs in North Las Vegas necessarily means controlling the salary and benefits for its public-safety employees — but NRS 288, Nevada’s collective bargaining law, gives government employees the upper hand over taxpayers.

First, unlike in the private sector, government unions have a major role in selecting the elected officials who will be “bargaining” against them. Unions are often the most powerful special interest groups in low-turnout elections for local officials. This allows them to help select allies more indebted to union members than taxpayers. Of course, some elected officials, like Clark County Commissioner Tom Collins and Las Vegas City Councilman Steve Ross, are actually former union members.

Second, unlike in the private sector, where exorbitant union contracts can drive and have driven companies into bankruptcy, governments rarely go bankrupt — they just raise taxes and squeeze taxpayers even more. This lack of competition means that government unions rarely face consequences for demanding salaries that far exceed their private-sector equivalents.

Third, Nevada’s collective bargaining law mandates that a consideration for resolving contract disputes is a government entity’s “ability to pay.” When times are good, this provision, among many others in NRS 288, allows government unions to extract unsustainable increases in salaries and benefits.

When a local economy crashes, however, the salaries and benefits rarely come back down to earth. That’s because unions are able to maintain those exorbitant contracts through things like “evergreen” clauses. “Evergreen” clauses dictate that the current contract will stay in effect until a new contract is agreed to by both parties.

Unfortunately, no “evergreen” clauses exist for private-sector citizens. In the five years since 2007, Nevada’s real median household income has declined from $59,727 to $48,927.

Government workers though, as seen by the information available on TransparentNevada, continue to live high on the hog — at taxpayers’ expense.

Victor Joecks is communications director at the Nevada Policy Research Institute.