With the election of Democratic majorities in both the state Assembly and Senate, many fear that, as Yogi Berra once said, it’s going to be deja vu all over again.
The 2019 session of the Legislature could resurrect many of the bills that Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval vetoed in 2017 — 41 in all, and he is considered a moderate Republican — because this time around the governor wielding the veto pen, or not, will be Democrat Steve Sisolak.
Take 2017’s Assembly Bill 154, which was sponsored by a raft of Democrats. But for Sandoval’s veto, the bill would have rolled back the minor headway made just two years earlier to cut the cost of public works. It would raise the cost of construction of university and public school buildings by reimposing the so-called prevailing wage on more projects.
Prevailing wage laws require that workers on public construction jobs to be paid no less than the “prevailing” wage in the area where the work is being done. The wage rate is set by the state Labor Commissioner based on a survey of contractors. The survey is so time consuming that in reality only union shops bother to comply, meaning the prevailing wage is the highest union wage.
In 2000, a study by the Las Vegas newspaper found the prevailing wage law cost taxpayers about $2.3 million extra on every new public high school being built in Clark County.
Then there is Senate Bill 106, which would have raised the minimum wage employers must pay workers. Currently the minimum is $7.25 and hour for workers whose benefits include health insurance and $8.25 for those who do not.
SB106 would have raised that by 75 cents a year until it reached $11 an hour for the insured and $12 for the uninsured. Sisolak has supported incremental increases in the minimum wage, though study after study has shown such requirements eliminate jobs and cause reduced hours for the remaining workers.
A 2017 University of Washington study of Seattle’s minimum wage, which was raised to $13 an hour, found the increase boosted hourly earnings in the jobs affected by a paltry 3 percent, and reduced hours worked by 9 percent. They also found the city would have had 5,000 more jobs if the minimum wages had not been increased.
Assembly Bill 374 from 2017 would have allowed any Nevadan to purchase Medicaid-like health insurance through the state exchange even if they are not eligible for Medicaid. In his veto message Sandoval said the measure would have created uncertainty in an already fragile health care market. He said the bill could have caused longer waits for care and fewer available doctors.
Senate Bill 196 would have required employers with at least 25 employees to provide workers with paid sick leave. Sandoval expressed concerns about the impact on small businesses.
Senate Bill 384 would have done legislatively what the Nevada Public Employees’ Retirement System has been trying unsuccessfully to get the courts to do for years. It would have declared all information about state and local government retirees confidential under the law.
Just this past month the Nevada Supreme Court, in a case brought by the Nevada Policy Research Institute, declared the names and pension amounts of retired public employees are indeed public records under the current law.
Nevada’s public employee pensions are the richest in the nation — $64,000 a year or more than $1.3 million in lifetime benefits, and that doesn’t include public-safety workers, such as firefighters and police, who can retire earlier and generally have higher salaries, especially in Nevada. Compare this to the average annual Social Security benefit of $16,000.
According to NPRI’s transparentnevada.com, in 2015 there were more than 1,500 Nevada state and local retirees receiving annual pensions in excess of $100,000. A revival of SB384 would keep that a secret from those whose taxes cover the expense.
Keep your eyes on this upcoming session in Carson City. It could bode very poorly for employers, workers and taxpayers.
A version of this column appeared this week in many of the Battle Born Media newspapers — The Ely Times, the Mesquite Local News, the Mineral County Independent-News, the Eureka Sentinel and the Lincoln County Record — and the Elko Daily Free Press.