Nevada lawmakers on verge of restoring state worker pay cuts | RecordCourier.com

Nevada lawmakers on verge of restoring state worker pay cuts

by Geoff Dornan
gdornan@nevadaappeal.com

Lawmakers are closing in on a deal that would restore the pay cuts state workers have suffered during the past five years.

Both Republicans and Democrats said earlier this month their goal was to at least reduce — and hopefully eliminate — the 2.5 percent pay cuts. That proposal contrasts with the recommendation of Gov. Brian Sandoval, whose budget restores merit and longevity pay and, in year two of the budget cycle, eliminates unpaid furloughs.

“We have totally been working toward restoring their pay,” said Sen. Debbie Smith, D-Sparks, on Thursday.

She said the bill setting classified and unclassified worker pay would likely be unveiled today. The session closes Monday.

Sandoval first proposed cutting the number of unpaid furlough days each year from six to three. Then he amended that saying he would eliminate the furloughs altogether in the second year of the biennium using money freed up by reduced employee benefit costs.

State workers and their representatives have made clear they would prefer to get the pay restored. Assembly Ways and Means Chairwoman Maggie Carlton, D-Las Vegas, said earlier this month she supports that goal since, with the furloughs, at least workers get something — a day off.

“They’re going to be pleased,” Smith said.

The problem lawmakers are trying to solve is that eliminating the 2.5 percent pay cuts imposed on state workers in 2011 would cost about $25 million more than the governor’s proposed furlough plan.

Smith said although the deal isn’t finalized yet, they can get some money to cover that cost from sources, including the $47 million the economic forum added to projected revenues for the rest of this fiscal year and the coming biennium.

Cuts to state worker pay and benefits have been a particular sore point with those employees who say that Sandoval has argued businesses can’t endure more taxes while, in effect, imposing a tax on them in the form of the cuts.

In addition to the pay cuts and furloughs, state workers lost their merit and longevity pay, saw significant reductions in their health benefits and lost a variety of smaller benefits such as shift differential and supplemental pay for such things as being bilingual, working in rural prisons and working out of class.

The pay bill is one of five measures that implement the budget and end the legislative session.

Two of the others were introduced in the Assembly on Thursday. One is the Capital Improvement Projects budget containing more than $80 million in primarily maintenance projects.

The other is the Appropriations Act, which spells out how the state General Fund money will be spent over the next two fiscal years. Altogether, Assembly Bill 505 details General Fund spending totaling $1.98 billion in fiscal 2014 and $2.03 billion in fiscal 2015.

It is important to get the Appropriations Act introduced because, by statute, it must “rest” in the Assembly for 24 hours before any action. The 24 hours gives lawmakers, not on the money committees, a chance to review it.

The rest of the $6.5 billion in projected General Fund revenue is contained in the Education First or DSA bill —along with the pay bill, one of the three measures still to be introduced. The total Distributive School Account funding this coming biennium is just a hair less than $2.5 billion.

While the Appropriations Act must “rest” a full day, it is the education funding bill that must, under Nevada’s Constitution, be approved before any of the other measures.

The remaining bill is the Authorizations Act. That measure spells out how all the other money including federal and highway fund cash along with non-General Fund university system revenues are spent. Authorizations is actually the biggest in terms of dollars spent.

Altogether, the state budget — when all sources of revenue are included — comes to about $17 billion for the biennium.