Panels vote to restore state worker pay

May 31, 2013 • Business

Nevada Senate leadership, from left, Sens. Ben Kieckhefer, R-Reno, Michael Roberson, R-Henderson, Mo Denis, D-Las Vegas, and Debbie Smith, D-Sparks, talk on the Senate floor at the Legislative Building, in Carson City, Nev., on Friday, May 31, 2013. Going into the final hours of the session, legislative budget committees voted unanimously Friday to restore pay cuts to state workers but to keep unpaid furloughs. (AP Photo/Cathleen Allison)

CARSON CITY, Nev. (AP) — Legislative panels voted unanimously Friday to restore pay cuts imposed on state workers but to keep unpaid furloughs.

The separate actions by the Assembly Ways and Means and the Senate Finance committees come as lawmakers are putting the finishing touches on the budget in the final days of the 2013 session, which must adjourn by midnight Monday.

Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval had proposed keeping the pay cuts but reducing the number of furlough days from six to three in the upcoming fiscal year and eliminating [auth] them beginning July 1, 2014.

The committees also agreed to restore merit and longevity pay beginning in second year, as recommended by the governor. The committees’ actions, if adopted in the final budget, would cost $32 million over the biennium.

“I think we’ve heard a great deal from our employees and the impact the salary reductions have had on them over a period of time,” said Sen. Debbie Smith, chairwoman of the Finance Committee. “I worry about our ability to attract and retain employees. I worry about their ability to meet their obligations.”

State workers have taken furloughs and pay cuts since 2009, when the recession gripped the state and the economy tanked. Many state workers said furloughs were preferable to reduced take-home pay because they could at least find consolation in having a day off.

Republicans conditionally agreed to restore the 2.5 percent pay cuts but said they’ll oppose it if it takes money away from public schools.

Assembly Minority Leader Pat Hickey, R-Reno, said his caucus reserved the right to vote against restoration of pay, saying lawmakers “don’t see the full picture of what we’re dealing with here.”

“When we see the whole picture I think there may be more discussion,” he said.

The money would come from better-than-expected revenue projections from the Economic Forum and savings from employee health care.

Sandoval has said he wanted to target those funds for K-12 education and put more money toward English language learner programs and smaller class sizes.

“I will vote for this restoration of the 2.5 percent salary reduction today conditioned on the final determination of where this money will come from,” said Sen. Michael Roberson of Henderson, the Republican minority leader. “But I want to be clear for the record, at the end of the day I will not support this if one dime of money is reduced for education that the governor has proposed.”

Senate Majority Leader Mo Denis, D-Las Vegas, said education is a top priority for Democrats as well but noted state employees are also an important asset.

“I will be supporting this for our state employees and will continue to work for every dollar we can for education,” he said. “We have an overall job to do with this budget. We’ll work hard to make it all fit.”

Smith, D-Sparks, said she was offended that Republicans would try to paint Democrats as trying to take money from education, a topic Democrats identified early in the session as a legislative priority.

“I resent any implication that the people who’ve been trying to get more money for education would harm education in any way,” she said.

She noted Sandoval wants more tax breaks for businesses and Republicans have dug in their heels to prevent any tax hikes to bring in more money.

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