Senate splits on partisan lines over state worker pay bill
After Gov. Joe Lombardo signed the first big state employee pay bill of the session last week — moving forward with a pair of $500 bonuses for state workers that received unanimous support in both chambers of the Legislature — another state worker pay bill has already drawn a stark partisan divide.
SB440, sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Nicole Cannizzaro (D-Las Vegas), would grant state workers a 2 percent cost of living raise for April through June of this year, and would appropriate more than $26 million to pay two arbitration awards related to collective bargaining agreements reached last year between the state and two employee unions — AFSCME and the Nevada Police Union (NPU).
But during a Senate floor vote of the bill Monday afternoon, Cannizzaro and Senate Minority Leader Heidi Seevers Gansert (R-Reno) gave dueling speeches for and against the bill, as lawmakers voted 13-8 along party lines (with all Democrats in support) to pass the bill.
Cannizzaro argued that state laws governing collective bargaining created an obligation for state lawmakers to approve negotiated and arbitrated provisions of state worker contracts.
“Otherwise we are saying that particular portion of the Nevada Revised Statutes, whether we agree with it or not, is something that we’re just not willing to enforce, that is void,” Cannizzaro said. “And if that is the case for that portion [of the NRS] then it is also true, and could be true, of any portion of the Nevada Revised Statutes.”
She also argued that the additional 2 percent cost of living raise in the current fiscal year was “something that we can afford and is appropriate.”
But Seevers Gansert cautioned the need for fiscal responsibility, saying that the state should not award pay raises that it cannot sustain long term, and took issue with the discrepancy in pay between nonunion workers and those in unions who benefited from higher pay thanks to collective bargaining agreements.
“In 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2011, we faced budget cuts. And for those of us who were here — several of us were here — it was painful,” Seevers Gansert said.
Pointing to deep cuts to health and human services programs, including mental health, as well as education and rolling furloughs for public employees, Gansert said that prior to those cuts, lawmakers had just voted to increase state worker pay in 2007.
“Nevada is not immune to economic downturns. Rather, historically, it has been hit harder than any other state,” she said. “The past needs to inform us today, and in the future.”
A spokesperson for the governor declined to comment on the bill and whether the governor would support providing the arbitration pay to members of the NPU and AFSCME.