Thursday, January 15, 2009

Dear government of the State of Nevada: some thoughts

I know that you're struggling right now with a horrifyingly bad economy, and you're trying to minimize the pain to Nevada's citizens. I don't envy you your choices, because you're at the point where you're deciding between choices that are devastating and those that are merely awful.

It's a bit self-serving of me personally to point out that the 6% pay cut and similar suggestions are penalizing one sector of your economy much more than the rest, especially given the trade-offs in job satisfaction that I get from working at UNLV. But I'm relatively well-compensated, compared to many of my colleague workers here. As an example, here's a recent letter written by one of my co-workers:

Honorable Legislators,

I have great concern for the proposed increases in health care cost, removal of health care for State Workers after retirement, and the proposed 6 percent pay cut for State Workers. I manage a crew of 50 grounds personnel, all of whom do not have computer access. So I am writing not only on my behalf but theirs. Some of these employees' entry wages start out at around $11.92 per hour. We have already removed their merit increases and these further cuts would be devastating to their income, child care, and health. I have served my country in the United States Marine Corps, and have served the State of Nevada for the last 24 years. On behalf of myself and those whom work along side of me, working for the State, we request that you and the State Representatives do not allow these cuts to occur; please vote against them.

I have lived in Nevada for 47 years and watched the population expand; there has to be other ways to increase revenues, business taxes for example, to raise the revenue
needed other than placing the burden on those who have served and dedicated
their life for the State of Nevada.

Sincerely yours,
Robert Lynn
Facilities Manager
UNLV Landscape and Grounds (letter edited slightly)

I've made a similar point before (see here). It's time for Nevada to consider a much more broad-based economy. We need to look more like, say, Texas (many different sectors of the economy) than like Michigan (which is teetering on the brink of failure because so much of its economy relates to the automotive industry). Texas is hurting, but Michigan may be dying.

(Actually, in one sense, I'd like to see us look a lot more like Texas or Michigan--at least in terms of support for such public goods as education and health care. That would make us a far more attractive place to recruit new types of businesses. People want to see their children well-educated and their families well cared for and safe. A slash-and-burn approach to our budget woes is the exact opposite of what we need in order to attract new businesses here. With low taxes that cannot support even the basic needs of its citizens, Nevada "gets what it pays for"--not very much.)

After I left the world of private practice to take a job in higher education, a very wise person told me that people believe in ideas that save lives or change lives. Health care saves lives; education and research changes lives. It's time to ask everyone in Nevada--not just its state employees--to invest in saving and changing lives.

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