STATELINE — Local government officials need to ante up if they want to save Nevada’s community colleges, a panel of lawmakers told them Thursday.
That was the response to an audience question about whether the lawmakers think the community colleges, which have been systematically stripped of state funding over the past three legislative sessions, are valuable to the state’s economic development. They also were asked whether they would support giving local governments some control over managing community colleges and how they would give those colleges more funding.
“If the counties want more local control, the other side of that coin is you’re going to have to step up with more local funding,” said Assembly Minority Leader Pat Hickey, R-Reno.
Senate Majority Leader Mo Denis, D-Las Vegas, echoed Hickey’s comments: “People have got to be willing to step up if we make it equitable.”
That brought a sharp response from Washoe County Commissioner David Humke, who said asking for local government funding but only giving those governments a little say in the colleges’ operations won’t fly.
“If you expect local governments to fund them, give us all the control,” he said. “Take them out from under the Board of Regents.”
The panel also included Sens. Ben Kieckhefer, R-Reno, David Parks and Pat Spearman, both D-Las Vegas, and Assemblywoman Teresa Benitez-Thompson, D-Reno. They told the audience at MontBleu Resort in Stateline that they supported the decision to back away from withdrawing from the bi-state Tahoe Regional Planning Agency.
Thompson said there’s no way Nevada could afford some of the efforts at the lake, such as stopping the spread of the quagga mussel, without funding from California and the federal government.
Hickey said he doubts Nevada could escape the bi-state compact because “it’s pretty much set in federal stone.”
Parks, who requested the bill rescinding Nevada’s threat to pull out, said the threat to do so accomplished the goal of getting not only California but environmental stakeholders to the bargaining table.
“We’re moving in the right direction,” he said, adding that Nevada has “far too much to lose” by pulling out.
“If you’re not at the table, you can’t negotiate,” Spearman said, echoing Parks’ statement that there has been progress in the past two years.
All those at the table agreed good progress was made during the 2013 session — especially in the form of added funding for all-day kindergarten and English Language Learner programs.
North Las Vegas Mayor John Lee, former state senator, called on lawmakers to turn control of the Cheyenne campus of the College of Southern Nevada to city government.
Hickey said local governments got some help from the 2013 session as well — for example, the return of Indigent Accident funding that’s worth more than $40 million to the counties.
All members of the panel said progress was possible in part because of a much more collegial attitude among members despite philosophical differences over such things as taxes.
“On the revenue front we had a lot of debate, a lot of discussion, but at the end of the day, it didn’t come to anything,” Denis said.
He said he hopes they will come up with long-term changes to the tax structure in 2015, but that “we have trouble doing long-term solutions in the Legislature because we have elections every two years.”
The discussion needs to include such things as changes to public-sector collective bargaining, Kieckhefer said.
Hickey said lawmakers also have gone “a little too far” in granting tax abatements — especially those that affect rural areas.
This year’s annual conference included not only the 17 counties but the members of the Nevada League of Cities. It wraps up today.
“If you expect local governments to fund them, give us all the control. Take them out from under the Board of Regents.”
— Washoe County Commissioner David Humke