Nevada lawmakers voiced strident opposition Tuesday to a bill that would end a longevity-pay program that rewards state employees once they’ve put in eight years of continuous service.
Department of Administration chief Jim Wells presented AB436 to the Assembly Ways and Means Committee, saying the program’s allure has waned because young workers are much more likely to switch jobs and are less inclined than past generations to serve 30 years in state employment.
“The administration does value all state employees,” Wells added, “but believes that paying for workers based on tenure rather than performance can reward workers who are average while demoralizing exceptional ones and lead to morale issues in the workplace.”
The program was placed on hiatus during the economic downturn, but it is scheduled to return in July. Wells noted while the state seeks to cut off the $14.2 million in longevity payments it expects to make over two years, the governor’s proposed budget calls for an end to furloughs and effectively raises state employee pay by 2.5 percent.
Both Democratic and Republican lawmakers bristled at the idea of repealing the longevity program, which pays $150 a year at eight years of employment and grows up to a maximum of $2,350 annually.
Democratic lawmakers Mike Sprinkle and Teresa Benitez-Thompson said state agencies have already complained to the committee that they have trouble filling vacancies, and they questioned why the state was removing another incentive to state work.
“What are your plans for the future to get more people to want to work for the state of Nevada as we continue to scale back on the benefits we’re offering them?” Sprinkle said.
Other committee members said state employees have suffered enough already through the downturn, taking furloughs, forgoing raises and being forced to contribute more toward their health expenses.
“I don’t want anyone to think that the elimination of the furlough is a benefit. It’s what we promised them when we hired them,” Democratic Assemblywoman Maggie Carlton said. “We stole that money from those employees and now we’re saying, ‘Oh, by the way, you can have that back.’”
Wells and Gov. Brian Sandoval’s Chief of Staff, Mike Willden, said they recognized the sacrifices of state workers, but they argued that longevity pay is far down the list of perks that prompt workers to take a state job.
Higher base pay, merit pay and a good health plan would do more to recruit and retain employees than keeping the longevity payments, Willden said.