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Government needs power of the pink slip
by Tribune Editorial Board
Aug 14, 2010 | 1397 views | 0 0 comments | 5 5 recommendations | email to a friend | print
How many times have you turned on a local television newscast or picked up the newspaper and come across stories regarding the state’s budget crisis? Certainly, it’s more than you’d care to remember since the national economy began taking a dive in 2007.

Over the last two years, whenever our state, county, city and school district leaders have sat down to crunch numbers and put their annual budgets together, we hear about millions in lost revenues and how those entities will have to cut services or jobs. Essentially, how they’ll have to do more with less.

They wouldn’t have to do more with less if they could increase productivity. Most government leaders would say it’s tough to work with a bare bones staff, but let us explain further what we mean.

In private business, if an employee is not pulling his or her weight, they get their pink slip pretty quickly. Your mom or dad better be signing the checks if you expect to show up for work and just go through the motions in a private-sector job. Especially in this sluggish economy, there are too many other folks looking for a gig to keep someone around who is not meeting expectations.

That’s not necessarily the case in the public sector. Hiring for any job is a crapshoot. You’re lucky if 50 percent of your hires are ones you’re happy with. Furthermore, in the public sector, it’s not easy to rectify hiring mistakes. It’s pretty hard to fire a teacher, police officer, city planner or county secretary, for example.

If the public agencies could fire the employees not doing their jobs in a satisfactory manner, they’d be in a much more powerful position.

It’s no secret that payroll makes up the biggest chunk of Washoe County’s nearly $313 million 2009-10 budget and the school district’s $508.6 million 2009-10 budget. When it comes to layoffs, public entities almost always cut entry-level positions and employees with little experience, regardless of work quality. Then agencies are still stuck with the same inefficient employees who have been skating along because they can.

With 6,200 and 2,700 employees respectively — the first and third largest employers in northern Nevada — it’s not a stretch to say the county and school district have a few employees who are not all they can be.

Under any economic conditions, but specifically in a budget crisis, wouldn’t it be nice if agencies could actually eliminate the employees not doing their jobs well? Agencies could keep their employees who are most productive and cut the dead weight. They could in turn see a large cost savings from those salary cuts or see a smaller savings by refilling the positions with a starting salary.

Either way, money is saved while productivity is maximized.

It’s no secret there are ambitious, hard-working teachers and lazy, bitter ones — although hopefully, a much smaller number in the latter category. And it’s certainly not just an issue in classrooms. You see that dynamic on police forces, in accounting offices, in administrative board rooms and countless other places.

You can cite all kinds of reasons that lackluster public workers skate by. Critics would say unions have become too strong. It really doesn’t matter. The bottom line is: Why should taxpayers keep footing the bill for public employees who don’t take pride in their jobs and aren’t appreciative that they have a job that can pay the bills?

When funding for public agencies is tight, it would be nice if our public leaders could make the cuts where they most need to be made.
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