About 300 union members and supporters gathered in freezing temperatures outside the Nevada Legislature to issue a challenge and warning to lawmakers and Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval, who has said he won't raise taxes or fees to balance the books for the upcoming biennium.
In Las Vegas, the crowd was estimated at 1,000.
Sandoval has proposed a $5.8 billion spending plan that includes deep cuts to education, mental health and other social services. He's also wants 5 percent salary cuts for all state workers, including teachers, though their salaries are subject to collective bargaining.
Danny Thompson, executive secretary of the Nevada State AFL-CIO and a former legislator, told the enthusiastic crowd that Nevada for years has relied on a broken tax system that "doesn't pay the bills."
Sandoval has been unwavering in his stance against tax hikes, saying Nevada families and businesses cannot afford to pay more in the aftermath of the Great Recession that has left the state crippled with record joblessness, bankruptcies and foreclosures.
He has said wages and benefits paid to public employees at the state and local level are part of the equation to stabilize government expenses. Former Gov. Jim Gibbons had proposed eliminating collective bargaining for local government workers, a Sandoval does not support that, administration officials said. Sandoval has not made specific recommendations on collective bargaining, but in his State of the State address in January he urged lawmakers to bring him reforms.
After five days of massive protests in Wisconsin over Gov. Scott Walker's plan to wipe out collective bargaining rights for most public employees, workers in Nevada are clearly worried.
"Wisconsin today. Nevada tomorrow," read one sign carried by Tracy DuPree, a handicapped worker at the rally in Nevada's capital city.
"There's a war on the middle class," he said. "We're the targets."
Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford, D-North Las Vegas, said some in government "want to make public employees a dirty word, a dirty phrase."
"I want to work with the governor to build this budget fairly and equitably," he said, "not on the backs of the middle class."
"There will be some cuts," he said. "We will not be able to fill this hold without it."
The noontime crowd was treated to pizza at Horsford's expense.
"I wanted to give you a slice of pizza rather than take a slice of your pay," he said.
For Assemblyman Elliott Anderson, D-Las Vegas, the union battles in Wisconsin are personal. Both his parents are public educators.
"Compromise is OK," he said. "Overreach is not."
A block away in front of the state Capitol, about a dozen people held a counter demonstration to show support for Sandoval and budget cuts.
"We're in a recession," said Theresa Degraffenreid. "I want to support our governor; support what the governor's trying to do in Wisconsin.
A preschool teacher, she said she took a pay cut to help avoid layoffs.
Degraffenreid carried a sign reading, "I'm a teacher. I did my part. Now you do yours."