- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 24, 2012

General Services Administration (GSA) employees aren’t the only ones living it up in the shadow of the Las Vegas Strip. Public servants who serve themselves on the public’s dime have drained state, municipal and federal coffers nationwide. As the money runs out, showdowns over spending levels are inevitable. That’s what’s happening right now in North Las Vegas.

City leaders on Wednesday announced a once-unthinkable option: They are willing to cancel contracts with public unions to keep from going bust. Under Nevada law, municipalities must come up with a balanced budget by June 1, something they can’t do without cutting back on the bloated payrolls that represent the single largest expense.

To take just a few examples, a city jailer pocketed $525,223 in salary and benefits last year. The average police officer and firefighter earn more than $136,000 - but not because of the on-the-job risk. Cushy gigs like being the municipal librarian paid $191,795, and a human-resources analyst walked away with $323,346.

Having set up a gravy train this good, unions aren’t willing to budge, no matter the severity of the crisis at hand. Nevada has been particularly hard hit by the housing-market collapse and ensuing recession. When times were good, tax revenue flooded in and politicians didn’t think twice about signing off on lavish deals granting municipal employees 100 percent free health care and retirement packages. Now that the bubble has burst, property-tax revenues in North Las Vegas are down 37 percent, unemployment has jumped to 14.3 percent, and the city is $31 million in the red.

Unlike in Washington or Brussels, where lawmakers talk about “cuts” while increasing their spending levels, the austerity in North Las Vegas is legitimate. The current budget is $425 million, down from $841 million in 2009. Much of the savings has come from the elimination of 800 positions, but even this is not enough to bring finances back in line. According to City Manager Timothy R. Hacker, another 217 would have to go for the city to achieve balance, but it doesn’t have to be that way. “If we could get reasonable concessions with our unions - the ones we’ve been asking for - and if they don’t fight us on other operational changes, we can get through this together,” Mr. Hacker told The Washington Times.

The city’s proposed deal asks unions to accept a two-year freeze on annual pay hikes, an end to a uniform allowance and an end to the practice of converting unused annual leave into cash. In return, employees get to keep those jobs. If the unions don’t come to their senses by the end of next week, the city council may declare its collective-bargaining agreements economically unsustainable. State law grants power in an emergency to suspend contract provisions in the interest of all residents.

It’s a bold move, and one that points to the solution to problems far beyond Vegas. Government at every level spends far too much money on itself. At some point, public-sector unions are going to have to realize the party’s over.

The Washington Times