Compensation Increase
for Public Employees

Dear NPRI,

It is obvious from charts published by NPRI and others that a major increase for public sector employees resulted from disproportionate increases in the cost of benefits during the last decade.

The decade 1980-1990 was marked by a dramatic rise in the cost of health care. Private sector employers responded to this upward movement in various ways: curtailment of benefits programs; implementation of two-tier employment in which emphasis was placed on hiring "part-time" employees who received fewer benefits that "full-timers;" embracing self-insurance, high-deductible and "managed care" programs such as HMOs; requiring employees to pay a larger share of the cost of coverage; and, in many cases, simply curtailing other benefits to make up for the increased cost of medical insurance programs. These solutions were not readily available in the public sector. Although public-sector employees typically receive lower base pay than their peers in private industry, they have traditionally accepted job security and better-than-average benefits as a tradeoff. What you now regard as "privilege" for this so-called "privileged class" is no more than the result of economic factors having increased the value of those benefits and given them a slightly better deal than you think is appropriate.

The compensation anomaly which you oppose is not the result of "big government" in action. Rather, it is a result of the private enterprise approach to health care delivery, malpractice insurance and litigation.

If we are going to point accusing fingers at "privileged classes" we might begin with members of the health care delivery system and continue with members of Congress who are reluctant to legislate for their constituents the same kind of single-payer health insurance program that they enjoy themselves.

Denis Sullivan
Internet Correspondence

The writer is correct in noting that the cost of so-called "fringe benefits" soared upward between 1980 and 1990 but he is incorrect in his assumption that "public-sector employees typically receive lower base pay that their peers in private industry." It is true that at an earlier stage of our nation’s history generous so-called "fringe benefits" for public employees were intended to compensate for inadequate salaries, but most public sector salaries have by how more than caught up with marketplace realities.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, earning gains in Nevada for the years 1980 to 1991, before adjustments for inflation, amounted to a 53.6 percent gain for private sector employees, a 57.5 percent gain for state employees and a huge 82.3 percent gain for local government employees.

In most instances government employees now enjoy salaries slightly higher than most of them could command in the private sector while continuing to enjoy so-called "fringe benefits" valued far higher than those available to a typical private sector worker. —Ed

Clark Sales Tax
Proposal Stinks

Dear NPRI:

Although I may not be from Missouri, when people say there’s an "urgent need" for a tax increase I have two words: "Show Me." And when it comes to the quarter-cent tax hike in Clark County to pay for water system upgrades, I’m far from convinced. Something just isn’t right about this deal—and like a barrel of fish on the Strip in July, the closer you get, the worse it smells.

If this is such a good idea, why are supporters using so much juice and political muscle to ram it through the County Commission rather than let the people who will be picking up the tab have a voice in the decision? If this is such a good idea, why do supporters find it necessary to put out false and misleading information? What are they afraid of?

The quarter-cent proposal looks like a back-room deal orchestrated by a small but powerful corps of political insiders and influential special interest lobbyists. It’s time to bring the quarter-cent tax hike out from the shadows and into the light of day. Here are a few points and a few more questions to be considered in the discussion:

This debate isn’t over whether or not to build the "second straw" water project; it’s over how to pay for it. The "Chicken Little" hysteria of supporters trying to scare Southern Nevadans with doomsday predictions of a water system collapse is misleading. The project is already under way, and whether or not the quarter-cent proposal is approved the project will be built.

Last spring the Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce—a vocal supporter of the tax increase—conducted its own in-house opinion survey and told everyone that 69 percent of the people support the increase. But then an independent poll taken just weeks ago, conducted by a reputable firm with no stake in the issue, shows exactly the opposite—that 69 percent of the people oppose the increase.

Quarter-centers are fond of saying that we elect representatives to make these "tough decisions." What a red herring. Countless issues—many of comparatively inconsequential significance—are placed on the ballot every election cycle. Do quarter-centers actually expect us to believe that changing the official state holiday to a three-day weekend is an issue important enough for voters to decide but a $357 million tax increase is not?

Supporters of the increase keep telling us what an infinitesimally small amount it is. It’s not. This proposal will be taking a whopping $357 million out of the pockets of working families and put it into the hands of government bureaucrats. And while the quarter-cent itself may be considered small, the fact is that Clark County already has one of the 10 highest sales tax rates in the country. We need to look at lowering taxes, not raising them.

Tim Cashman, an adamant supporter of the quarter-cent and a highly respected member of the community says, "Water is a necessity, not a luxury." He’s right. And just as taxpayers need to set priorities in their family budget, so should the government. What government "luxuries" is the Clark County government giving up? How are they tightening their belts?

Raising taxes is easy. Cutting spending is hard. As Ronald Reagan said, "The taxpayers aren’t taxed too little; the government spends too much."

Milton Schwartz
Las Vegas


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