Despite being duly warned, Nevada’s Democratic lawmakers and Democratic governor this past legislative session lit the fuse on a huge budget bomb — passing and signing into law Senate Bill 135, which gives state public employees the right to collectively bargain for wages and benefits.
A study commissioned by the Las Vegas Metro Chamber of Commerce estimates this unionization could in two decades increase the cost of state public employees as much as $1.75 billion a year in inflation-adjusted dollars. The entire current general fund budget amounts to about $4 billion a year.
Adding insult to injury, SB135 incorporates language similar to that found in the 1969 law allowing local government employees to collectively bargain. SB135 specifies that “certain meetings convened for the purpose of collective bargaining and resolving disputes relating to collective bargaining are exempt from the provisions of existing law requiring open and public meetings of public bodies.”
Not a single Republican voted for SB135, only the union-backed Democrats.
Thus the taxpayers who will have to foot the bill for whatever is doled out to their employees will be left in the dark about how the negotiations are conducted. We will not be able to see whether the government managers have properly shouldered the public’s fiduciary interests and be able to decide at the next election whether to oust those who appointed them.
Nevada’s Open Meeting Law states, “In enacting this chapter, the Legislature finds and declares that all public bodies exist to aid in the conduct of the people’s business. It is the intent of the law that their actions be taken openly and that their deliberations be conducted openly.”
This is to allow the voters/taxpayers the ability to judge the actions of those conducting their business.
Those voters/taxpayers are already getting the short end of the stick. Among the 50 states, Nevada local government workers rank fifth highest in pay, state public workers, even without collective bargaining, rank 10th, while private-sector workers rank 47th.
And Democrats argued that giving state public employees collective bargaining rights is only “fair.” Fair to whom?
In the private sector, union negotiators have to be mindful that demanding too much of an employer could drive the employer out of business and cost the jobs of union members and union negotiators. This is not the case with government. There is always more of other people’s money.
That is why those whose ox is being gored should be allowed to see the carnage as it happens.
The Las Vegas newspaper, in a recent editorial on this subject, quotes Chris Cargill of the Washington Policy Center as saying, “The public should always have the right to know what trade-offs and promises led to final and binding collective bargaining agreements. Especially when those agreements lock into place millions and sometimes billions of dollars of annual taxpayer spending.”
According to the Commonwealth Foundation of Pennsylvania, a number of states require at least some public worker collective bargaining contract negotiations to be open to the public at some point — Alaska, Colorado, Florida, Idaho, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Georgia, Kansas, Minnesota, Montana, Ohio, Oregon, Tennessee and Texas.
We call on lawmakers to remedy this shortchanging of the voters who elected them. Not only should the state public worker bargaining be conducted in the open but also the local government worker bargaining. It is only “fair.”
In fact, Gov. Steve Sisolak, who has frequently tried to embrace the mantle of transparency, could spend a few of our bucks and call those lawmakers into a special session to remedy this glaring blindering of his constituents.
A version of this editorial appeared this week in some of the Battle Born Media newspapers — The Ely Times, the Mesquite Local News, the Mineral County Independent-News, the Eureka Sentinel, Sparks Tribune and the Lincoln County Record.