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September 2, 2014

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POLITICS:

A bad year for politicians to be getting paid by taxpayers

Joe Heck

Joe Heck

Dina Titus

Dina Titus

Paycheck issue at play

Rep. Dina Titus, a Democrat, was a UNLV professor before being elected to Congress in 2009. Her opponent, Republican Joe Heck, owns a business with government entities as clients.

Republican House candidate Joe Heck has said that it’s not government’s job to create jobs. But for more than a decade, Heck’s paychecks have come from government entities.

Heck’s opponent, Democratic incumbent Rep. Dina Titus, has criticized Heck for earning his pay from government contracts. Yet the bulk of Titus’ salary — she was a longtime UNLV professor and state senator before heading to Washington — has also been paid with public money.

Both candidates running in the 3rd Congressional District have lived off taxpayer-funded, government jobs most of their careers.

It’s an uncomfortable fact for both, given they are locked in one of the tightest races in the nation, in an anti-government year. In Nevada, where the unemployment rate is 14.2 percent, voters are particularly roiled about highly paid government workers.

As they head toward November’s election, Titus and Heck will have to shake the image that they are feeding from the public trough in a state with a $3 billion budget deficit and above-average public employee wages.

“In this cycle, I would downplay it as much as possible,” said Geoffrey Lawrence, a fiscal policy analyst for the Nevada Policy Research Institute, a conservative think tank. “People’s anger is more pronounced.”

Nevada public employees earned the sixth-highest salaries in the United States in 2008, a recent study by the Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce concluded.

Titus was a professor at UNLV for 33 years. At the height of her career there in 2004, she earned $102,384, 86 percent of which was funded by taxpayers.

Titus has always taken unpaid leaves of absence while serving in the Nevada Legislature, then as a congresswoman. Her most recent leave started in 2009, when she left for Washington.

In the state Senate, Titus earned a legislative salary of $7,800, plus per diems for food and travel and extra pay for special sessions, as did Heck. Titus served in the Senate from 1988 to 2008; Heck from 2004 to 2008.

As a congresswoman, Titus earns $174,000 a year.

Heck’s income is primarily from government entities via his business, Specialized Medical Operations, which provides training and consulting to security companies, law enforcement and the military.

Since 1993, Specialized Medical Operations has held 11 consulting contracts, worth up to $944,550, with the Southern Nevada Health District. The most recent contract pays Specialized Medical Operations $100 an hour. Heck’s company also landed at least two contracts with Metro Police, worth up to $216,000.

Democrats have created a website, Heck’s Checks, that bashes Heck for collecting multiple government contracts while at the same time receiving a state Senate paycheck.

“I find it ironic that my opponent is attacking me for having a business that makes money and creates jobs,” Heck said.

Heck said he competes for work and, like most Nevadans, has struggled.

“I haven’t had to lay off anyone or cut hours, but I forgo a paycheck sometimes,” Heck said. “They are just trying to insulate themselves against the fact that Dina has been on the public payroll for 30 years.”

Titus fired back.

“In a sign of desperation, Sen. Heck is repeating an old Republican attack ... to deflect from the fact that he has benefited from multiple government contracts while saying it’s not the government’s job to create jobs,” Titus spokesman Andrew Stoddard said. “Sen. Heck has been critical of government spending but has no problem taking multiple taxpayer-funded contracts at once.”

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