Vin Suprynowicz

The Libertarian

Vin Suprynowicz

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Even before an arbitrator’s ruling on March 4 granted Las Vegas Metropolitan police officers a 21.85 percent pay hike over the next four years, police wages in Southern Nevada were already among the highest in the country, according to the consulting firm

Metro’s previous annual average base pay of $65,612 ranked Las Vegas officers sixth among the forces of 17 comparable Western cities -- higher than Seattle, Phoenix and San Diego, and a whopping 38 percent higher than the $47,482 police base pay in Salt Lake City.

When cost of living variables are taken into account, Metro salaries already ranked 14th among the nation’s 200 largest departments.

And base pay pales before "total annual compensation,” which already works out to $56.18 per hour.

Now, with the newly approved four-year pay hikes, average Metro base pay will increase to $79,948 -- before overtime, benefits, and other bonuses. Metro police officers’ average hourly compensation (currently $56.18) will increase to $68.45, which is equivalent to $60.74 for national comparison purposes when adjusted for the valley’s higher-than-average cost of living.

Yes, police often perform a trying and unpleasant job -- though, for the record, being a cop on patrol is statistically not as dangerous as hard-rock mining, driving a taxicab, or working an Alaskan fishing boat. And that’s before we even discuss all the “sworn” police officers who slave away at desk jobs, or processing permit applications.

Whether police “deserve” to be paid so much more than the average taxpayer who pays the bill would draw us into a lengthy discussion of whether we really need 80 percent of the laws on the books, and thus whether we really need all these cops to enforce them.

But surely we can point out that the current police pay arbitration procedure -- as laid out, here in the Silver State, by Nevada Revised Statutes 288.200 and particularly 288.215 -- is broken.

Clark County’s negotiators do at least deserve credit for fighting to save taxpayers some money -- money which they properly argue will be needed when other public employee unions come forward in the near future for their share of the pie. The approved contract actually saves taxpayers about $17 million, when compared to the 26.5 percent, four-year hike sought by the Las Vegas Police Protective Association, representing 2,600 Las Vegas police and corrections officers.

But arbitrator R. Douglas Collins of Hermosa Beach, Calif., made it clear in his 15-page ruling that “The final offers of both parties exceed the projected increase in the CPI for the duration of the agreement,” which various sources set at 2.4 to 2.5 percent annually.

The arbitrator thus strongly implies he might have chosen an even lower final figure, if it had been offered to him.

So why on earth did the municipal governments offer 21.85 percent, if there was a good chance the arbitrator might have accepted something less?

The answer lies in the peculiar procedure stipulated by NRS 288.215, which requires that the arbitrator choose one of the parties’ final written offers in its entirety.

Against common sense, the arbitrator is not allowed to reach a compromise number between the two requests -- he must choose one or the other.

Thus, negotiators for the municipality worry that any “low-ball” offer will be rejected out of hand, leaving the arbitrator no legal option but to grant the union every penny it demands.

And not without reason.

After stipulating that “the financial ability of the local government” to pay must be determined, the law is vague as to what “normal criteria” the arbitrator shall then use to reach a finding. (Arbitrator Collins specifically makes note of that vagueness.)

In the past, this has created a perception that some arbitrators will simply grant any union request that the government “can afford.”

Imagine being told at the supermarket that you’re going to be charged considerably more than the register total for your groceries, since it’s been determined you “can afford” it.

In the free market, of course, customers facing such a demand would simply walk out and find another grocery store. But the public is not allowed to go somewhere else to “buy their police services.” Thus, no free-market discipline is allowed to creep into this endless ratcheting upward of government worker compensation -- including that of firemen and police.

In a classic case of circular reasoning, only the pay scales of other government police agencies (busily being jacked up through similar exercises) were considered -- not the pay scales of private firms that undertake work comparable to that performed by some workers under this contract, whether that be guarding prisoners, filling out accident reports, or processing paperwork.

The fact that there is no “market” for police services is precisely why NRS 288.200 -- and particularly 288.215 -- need to be rewritten (at the very least), allowing arbitrators greater latitude to settle on numbers between the parties’ offers, thus encouraging the guardians of the public purse to propose more modest pay hikes, or even (heaven forfend) a pay freeze.

After all, it’s not the taxpayers, but the government, that creates “inflation” by making up so much new “legal tender” out of thin air. So why should the minions of government be buffered from this phenomenon, at additional taxpayer expense?

Or is someone again going to argue that a family for whom just one wage-earner is reeling in average annual total compensation approaching $100,000 “can’t afford a house”?

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