Back in the 1970s Wisconsin U.S. Sen. William Proxmire began handing out his monthly Golden Fleece Award, recognizing wasteful spending by government agencies, such as a $4 million advertising campaign by the Postal Service to encourage Americans to write more letters to each other.
After his retirement, along came Oklahoma U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn, who published an annual “Wastebook” list of 100 wasteful government boondoggles and debacles, which one year criticized the IRS for allowing $17.5 million in tax deductions for business expenses at Nevada brothels, such as breast implants, costumes and “equipment.”
A couple of years ago the folks at the Nevada Policy Research Institute picked up the cudgel and gave it a Nevada spin. “The Nevada Piglet Book” each year compiled a compendium of pork, profligacy, political proclivities and petty poltroonery.
Apparently the porker has grown, because this year’s recently published 28-page edition is titled, “The Nevada Piggy Book 2016.” Perhaps in a few years, at the current rate of state and local government growth in spending, it will be called “The Nevada Hog Book.”
One of this year’s new entries is a slap on the wrist for a $12.1 million, 3-mile demonstration bike path along the shores of Lake Tahoe, administered by the Tahoe Transportation District. Yes, that is more than $4 million per mile. You can build a four-lane divided highway for less than that.
The goal is to eventually build a bike path around the entire lake, which is more than 70 miles in circumference.
“The Highway Safety Research Center, housed within North Carolina’s UNC-Chapel Hill complex, estimates that constructing a bike path can cost anywhere from $5,000 to $500,000 per mile. …” the authors of the Piggy Book note.
In another new entry, the NPRI publication takes aim at the Nevada Department of Wildlife’s penchant for purchasing more vehicles than it needs.
According to an audit, the agency in one recent year had 118 total pooled vehicles, but more than half — 64 — had been driven less than the required 8,400 miles in a year. Four vehicles had no recorded mileage at all.
“Reducing fleet size could result in annual savings of up to $244,000 and a one-time savings of up to $163,000 from disposal of excess vehicles,” NPRI quoted the audit as saying.
The bulk of the book was devoted to a perennial topic: overly generous public employee salaries and obscenely excessive retirement benefits.
The Piggy Book cited several examples of retirement benefits undreamed of in the private sector. One Nevada firefighter retired in his early 40s and immediately began drawing a $105,000 annual pension from the Nevada Public Employee Retirement System. Though he had worked only 20 years, he “purchased” five years of entitlement to qualify for a 25-year pension level.
That firefighter is currently working full-time at a California fire department and being paid more than $300,000 a year. If he lives to his mid-80s, his annual Nevada pension alone, after compounding up to 5 percent a year in cost of living adjustments, could exceed $500,000 a year, NPRI calculates.
A Nevada police officer, the book tells us, retired at age 38 and began drawing $110,000 a year in pension money. Considering his life expectancy and cost adjustments, his total taxpayer funded pension should exceed $13 million.
“Nevadans’ tax dollars should go to providing public services,” the authors argue. “They should not be funding million-dollar retirement benefits for people out to amass personal fortunes by exploiting the bad public-policy decisions of naïve, ignorant or tainted politicians.”
The book further notes that local government salaries for police, firefighters and corrections officers rank fourth highest in the nation when adjusted for cost of living, while the adjusted wages of average Nevadans rank 46th.
The trajectory is for things to get worse before they get better.
As state Controller Ron Knecht pointed out recently, over the past decade total state spending (and that does not include local government agencies) grew 55 percent, while Nevadan’s incomes grew only 27 percent.
The term for that is unsustainable.
NPRI concludes, “For the interest groups that have covertly taken up residence within the public trough, trimming government is manifestly verboten. They have come to believe that — regardless of the waste, fraud and abuse that routinely takes place — they can always squeeze a few more billion dollars from the naïve, hard-working taxpayers.”
The book is available online at: www.npri.org/docLib/20170103_piggy_2016fifthgalleys_RGB.pdf
Thomas Mitchell is a longtime Nevada newspaper columnist. You may email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. He also blogs at 4thst8.wordpress.com.