(Sean Whaley/Nevada News Bureau) – A final report from a panel of private citizens charged with finding efficiencies in state government says the generous salary and benefit package provided to the state workforce is “unaffordable in the short run and unsustainable in the long run.”
“The sooner Nevada addresses this, and the sooner total government employee compensation is brought into parity with the private sector, the sooner the state will achieve a balanced budget allowing it to provide needed citizen services at desired levels,” says the final report from the Nevada Spending and Government Efficiency Commission (SAGE) in a report delivered today to Gov. Jim Gibbons.
“Dealing with this issue alone will save half of all the money contained in the Sage Commission’s recommendations,” said SAGE Chairman Bruce James.
Other findings in the report include:
– The state budgeting process is archaic and in need of revision. The process itself distracts everyone from agency personnel to members of the Legislature from focusing on the big picture by being forced to deal with minutia. We saw example after example of the same basic public services being provided by multiple agencies in a duplicative fashion without any coordination.
– Operating with 200 different units and agencies is unmanageable. In the government sector it seems that once an entity or program is established it seldom goes away regardless of efficacy. The result is a waste of public resources. AS a result, the SAGE Commission has recommended establishing the Nevada Sunset Commission to ensure periodic review of every state government entity and program to make certain it is still doing what it was established to do, is still necessary, and is cost efficient.
– The state needs to address its real estate portfolio. Nevada does not have a real estate plan and it lacks a complete inventory, in one place, of its raw land, improved real estate, leased real estate, and water and mineral rights.
– Nevada state officials lose out on millions of dollars in federal grants because there is no strategic, managed focus on this opportunity as other states do. This should be a full-out, statewide effort involving all jurisdictions eligible for such grants.
James said the SAGE Commissioners spent a lot of their own time and money to provide the 44 money saving and efficiency creating recommendations.
“Just as SAGE commissioners did in their work, we hope our elected public officials can now set aside their partisan differences to put the public’s interest first,” he said.
Gibbons established the SAGE Commission in 2008 as a non-partisan group of professionals who have volunteered their time to seek ways for Nevada government to save money, work more effectively, and perform more efficiently.
“I am delighted with the work of the SAGE Commission, and I am anxious to examine their newest recommendations and work to implement them,” he said after receiving the final report.
Gibbons said he has supported the vast majority of the SAGE Commission’s recommendations over the last year-and-a-half, but that most of the ideas have not been embraced by the Legislature.
“I will continue to pursue implementation of the SAGE Commission recommendations,” Gibbons said. “This Legislature simply must realize that they cannot continue to crush working families by raising taxes and increasing spending.”
Assemblywoman Sheila Leslie, D-Reno, said the Legislature has examined and given careful consideration to the SAGE Commission recommendations. The Legislature did enact some changes to the state retirement system and health benefit plans for new hires this past session, she said.
“But there was a pretty strong bipartisan feeling that it would be unfair to go back on agreements we have made in the past where state employees gave up salary increases to have better health care, for example,” Leslie said.
There seems to be a sense from the commission that the Legislature is not taking its recommendations seriously, which is not the case, she said.
The idea of reorganizing the many units of state government to improve efficiency is worth looking at, Leslie said. But some of Gibbons’ proposed reorganizations, such as combining the Commissions on Tourism and Economic Development, were not well thought out, she said.
Leslie said there are always efficiencies to be found in state government. That is why the Legislature’s Audit Subcommittee constantly reviews state agency operations.
But absent some big reorganization or cutting a big chunk of money out of the budget, cost savings from such efficiencies are likely to be minimal, she said.
Assemblyman James Settelmeyer, R-Gardnerville, said many of the SAGE recommendations have been ignored by the Legislature, just as past recommendations from previous reviews were ignored. Any changes that are adopted are usually modest, he said.
If some of the recommendations of past reviews had been accepted, Nevada might not be in such dire financial circumstances right now, he said.
But Settelmeyer said he does not believe state employees are excessively compensated. Settelmeyer said he would support a change to the state benefit program for new hires, but not current workers.
“On new hires, we have to change the system,” he said. “We need to change from a defined benefit to a defined contribution system.”
Rather than look at current state employee pay and benefits, Settelmeyer said he would like to see a comprehensive review of programs created over the past several sessions when times were good to see if some can be eliminated. Eliminating new programs the state can’t afford could help get the budget back in balance, he said.