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August 27, 2014

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Legislative panels endorse eliminating pay cuts for state employees

A group of legislators voted today to eliminate a 2.5 percent salary cut for state and higher education employees.

The proposal still needs approval from the full Legislature and from Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval, who had originally proposed that the state continue a 2.5 percent cut for the next two years.

But both the Assembly Ways and Means Committee and the Senate Finance Committee voted to restore the pay.

“There has to be a beginning to restore pay for state workers. This is clearly a major step in this direction,” said Keith Uriarte, chief of staff for the state's local chapter of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.

Sandoval's plan also would put more money in the pockets of state employees because they’d be paid for more days of work. Instead of eliminating the salary cut, the governor’s plan reduces unpaid furlough days from 12 to three, eliminating them by June 30, 2014.

Legislators worked with the governor’s office and swapped the idea, retaining six furlough days per year and eliminating the 2.5 percent salary reduction, giving state employees a boost in real wages.

In doing so, Democrats followed through with earlier statements that they would prefer to restore the 2.5 percent salary cut that state employees have lived with since 2009.

Representatives from the governor’s office said they won’t stand in the way of lawmakers’ move to restore the pay.

“The governor all (legislative) session has been listening to what state employees have been asking for,” said Gerald Gardner, Sandoval’s chief of staff.

The Sandoval’s budget has evolved since he introduced it in January, largely because the state’s budget has grown due to cost savings and economic growth.

That allowed legislators and representatives from the governor’s office to discuss how the state should spend that money.

“Now it looks like we’re able to do a bit more,” Gardner said.

Lawmakers have also have looked for ways to move money around to fund their own priorities.

The pay restoration costs the state about $51 million, leaving the furlough days at six days per year saves the state about $30 million. That leaves a $19 million difference that legislators will need to resolve as they piece together the state budget.

The Legislature will need to move some money around in the budget to accommodate the $19 million cost.

Because of the money shift, hesitant Republican legislators on the Assembly Ways and Means committee endorsed the proposal with a caveat that they might vote against it later if this component of the state budget conflicts with another priority.

Assemblywoman Maggie Carlton, D-Las Vegas, accepted what she called the “conditional yes” from Republicans and moved forward with the vote in the Assembly Ways and Means committee.

“We’ll find out later what the conditions are,” she said.

The committee also jointly approved the governor’s recommendation to continue suspension of merit pay raises from July 1 to June 30, 2014. After that date, employees would again get merit pay raises.

State budget director Jeff Mohlenkamp said these annual pay raises are vital for the state.

“When we talk to state agency directors, the step merit increase was highlighted as one of the most important elements,” he said. “That was something they said they really desperately need in order to retain and recruit staff.”

The committee will recommend the proposal to the full Assembly and Senate for approval. Those bodies will vote on the proposal soon; the Legislature adjourns June 3.

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