Taxing state workers has ripple effect

At least the tone was conciliatory in the letter informing state workers that our pay would be cut 5 percent, that long-awaited merit pay would never transpire and that furlough time would be a thing of the past.

Gov. Brian Sandoval, you smiled as you slid in the knife, thanking us for our blood, sacrificed for the benefit of the state.

I’m trying not to whine about this. The 5 percent cut will only be a few bucks more than the 4.6 percent cut that untenured university faculty like me have already endured in the past couple of years. No big deal, right?

The loss of “furlough” days, similarly, doesn’t change my life. Being an effective teacher and taking random days off are contradictory concepts. I considered giving fewer assignments to a 76-student journalism course last semester.

“Hey, we were going to write a paper about the impact of media on political discourse,” I would have said. “But I’m taking this next weekend off. Furlough Saturday! So I won’t have time to grade your work.”

The students would have enjoyed the break. But I could not do it. I don’t give writing assignments to keep students busy or to give myself something to do on weekends. I think it’s important for students to spend time reflecting in writing about the things we’ve discussed. Reading and commenting on the papers shows students that I care about their university education. It’s my job, and I love it.

The University of Nevada, Reno has many excellent and committed teachers, administrators and staff. That said, some gifted faculty members are looking for jobs elsewhere. Not everyone, of course. But it’s clear we’re going to lose some of the best and brightest.

I ran into another university professor while walking my dogs.

“Anyone who can leave is getting out of the state,” he said, dismally.

Where does that leave the Pack? Can a university’s reputation survive on football alone?

I’m sure cutting state worker pay seems a simple, palatable fix, if only a partial one. No matter that economists say cutting government spending in hard times is perhaps the worst thing to do.

A state legislator recently told me about failed negotiations with businesses that had been considering Nevada for relocation. Yes, businesses salivate over our low, low taxes. But they also look at public services, K-12 schools and colleges.

We’re not doing so great.

You get what you pay for.

It’s late in the game but not too late, I hope, to reconsider our state’s values. I can’t help but feel like state workers are being asked to bear the tax burden for the whole state. A 5 percent “wage reduction” might just as well be called a “tax.” It’s a personal contribution to the state budget that state workers must pay—a contribution not required of, say, casino executives or CEOs of public utilities.

NV Energy CEO Michael W. Yackira isn’t being asked to contribute some of his $4.5 million salary package to the state coffers.

If Steve Wynn, Mr. Las Vegas, were to cough up 5 percent of his $8.3 million annual compensation, that’d add half a million to the state budget.

Wynn is one of five billionaires who call Nevada home, by the way. The others listed on Fortune’s World Billionaires website: Sheldon Adelson of Las Vegas, worth $26.5 billion; Pierre Omidyar of Henderson, $8.8 billion, William Boyd of Las Vegas, $2.5 billion; and David Duffield of Incline Village, $1.3 billion.

My piddling salary reduction is barely enough to cover a cell phone bill. You can have it, Gov. Sandoval. But consider allowing other Nevadans to shoulder some of the weight.

Would Mr. Las Vegas even miss a half-mill?