Lawmakers concerned about cuts to state workers

By Sandra Chereb

Associated Press

Published: Wednesday, March 9 2011 6:25 p.m. MST

CARSON CITY, Nev. — Democratic lawmakers challenged administration officials Wednesday over Gov. Brian Sandoval's proposed cuts to state worker pay and benefits and their assumption that public employees would rather have less salary in exchange for job security.

During a Ways and Means Committee hearing, some legislators said public employees have neither under the Republican governor's budget proposal.

"I have a thousand e-mails from people who are concerned about their jobs," said Assemblyman Marcus Conklin, D-Las Vegas. "The message that we're sending them with this budget ... is you should be worried."

Conklin, the majority floor leader, commented after Budget Director Andrew Clinger and Personnel Director Teresa Thienhaus said studies show in the down economy, job security and benefits are more of a draw for employees that pay levels.

"In state government, the number one fringe benefit ... is job security," she said. "We are still overall offering people what surveys are showing people in the global market want."

Assemblywoman Debbie Smith, D-Sparks said that might have been true in the past, but "it seems to me we're sort of starting to erode those features as well."

Sandoval wants state workers, including teachers and university personnel, to take 5 percent pay cuts and pay more for health benefits. He's also proposed sweeping changes to the state retirement system for new hires, reductions in sick leave and holiday pay, and suspension of merit and longevity pay.

"You're talking over 11,000 positions that would have to be eliminated if you didn't do this," Clinger said.

Sandoval offered a $5.8 billion, two-year spending plan and said he won't sign any bill that raises taxes or fees. Democrat control both the Senate and Assembly, but lack a two-thirds majority needed to pass a tax hike or override a veto.

Conklin also said he's worried that continued cuts to state workers, who were forced to take monthly furloughs in July 2009 and pay more for health insurance, will lead to a brain drain among the work force.

Seasoned workers who are "really good at their jobs" are the ones who will courted by other employers when the economy improves, Conklin said. "They're going to be ripe for the picking."

Given Nevada's dismal economy and budget shortfall estimated near $2 billion, Conklin said he understands why the proposals are being made.

"But at what point in time do we say, whoa, we can't do this anymore?" he asked.

The governor has also requested a bill draft to freeze years of service for current employees effective in 2012.The service years are used to calculate retiree health benefit subsidies. Sandoval also wants to eliminate the retiree subsidy for all new hires after July 1.

Clinger said another proposal is to eliminate an option of requiring the state to buy up to five years of pension credits for eligible employees whose jobs are eliminated. Instead, the administration wants to replace that with six months of subsidized health benefits. The change would be for new hires after July 1.

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