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November 23, 2014

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Legislature approves state worker furlough bill

CARSON CITY – The Legislature has approved and sent to Gov. Jim Gibbons a bill requiring 16,000 state workers to take a furlough, rather than a pay cut.

Dennis Mallory, who represents the state’s classified workers, said the furlough was the suggestion of the State of Nevada Employees Association.

Senate Bill 433 provides that the unclassified workers, those in high levels of state government, must take one day leave a month without pay. The bulk of workers must take 96 hours of furlough during each of the coming two years.

Mallory said the furlough provides “moral relief” in that the pay level of the worker will not go down and the worker won't lose his or her benefits in retirement and health insurance plans.

The bill provides that if the balance in the state’s general fund reached $390 million next June 30, school teachers and university personnel will get a 1 percent pay raise. If the general fund balance hits $425 million, the raise would be 2 percent.

The local school boards and the regents of Nevada’s Higher Education System will decide whether to adopt the furlough plan or to make cuts in the salary level.

Jim Richardson, representing the Nevada Faculty Alliance, told the Assembly Ways and Means Committee that university faculty appreciated the work of the Legislature in reaching an agreement on compensation for public employees.

But he said the final decision will be up to the regents to decide what procedure to do – either pay reductions or furloughs.

Assembly Speaker Barbara Buckley, D-Las Vegas, said the bill provides flexibility for workers. For example, she said a classified worker can take four hours off in one pay period and four hours in another so the reduction in salary will not be large in one hit.

Gov. Jim Gibbons had proposed a 6 percent pay cut for all state workers. The Legislature reduced that to 4.6 percent but then adopted the furlough plan instead.

Gibbons didn’t support the furlough plan and raised 19 questions about the proposal in a letter to lawmakers. Buckley said she and the legislative staff met with the staff of the governor’s office and answered all 19 questions.

“This is more complicated but it is fairer,” said Buckley.

One of the last things holding up passage of the tax package was reductions in the benefits in the Public Employees Retirement System.

Now, a worker can stay on the job for 30 years and retire at any age and receive benefits. The Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce wanted the benefits delayed until the employee reached 62 years old.

Mallory said under the compromise, workers will still be able to retire after 30 years and get their benefits without reaching 62-years old.

Now government workers who retire receive up to a 5 percent cost of living adjustment depending on how much years they have been drawing their pensions. Under the compromise on Senate Bill 427, workers who start employment with governments after January 2010 will be capped at a 4 percent cost of living when they retire.

The furlough bill passed the Senate Thursday 20-1 with Mark Amoedi, R-Carson City dissenting. He had complained that state workers were not being treated equally compared to employees in school districts.

The Assembly approved SB433 today 37-5. The opposing votes were cast by Republicans Tyrus Cobb of Reno, Ed Goedhart of Amargosa Valley, Don Gustavson of Sparks, John Hambrick of Las Vegas and Richard McArthur, also of Las Vegas.

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