Lawmakers finally start to compromise on budget issues | NevadaAppeal.com

Lawmakers finally start to compromise on budget issues

Cathleen Allison/Associated Press Assemblyman Morse Arberry, D-Las Vegas, listens to proceedings on the Assembly floor Monday afternoon at the Legislature. Lawmakers are showing signs of strain as they work long hours to overcome obstacles to finalizing the state budget.

Their backs against the wall, legislative leadership met into the evening Monday to try resolve budget differences.

When they broke up at 8:30 p.m., everyone said simply they were “making progress.” No one would give any details.

Sen. Bob Beers, R-Las Vegas, said they would meet again today – but probably not until the afternoon because both the Senate Finance and Assembly Ways and Means committees had heavy schedules in the morning.

That puts them on the edge of being unable to get the budget completed by the constitutionally mandated end of session – midnight tonight. Senate Majority Leader Bill Raggio, R-Reno, said on the Senate floor earlier Monday if they couldn’t agree on a budget by the end of the day, a special session is likely because staff simply won’t be able to mechanically finish the budget on time.

“We haven’t landed on anything, but we’re making progress,” said Ways and Means Vice Chairwoman Chris Giunchigliani, D-Las Vegas. “It’s been a good day. It’s been a positive day.”

Speaker Richard Perkins, D-Henderson, agreed significant progress had been made.

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Ways and Means Chairman Morse Arberry, D-Las Vegas, said they were nearing a deal on a number of issues, including public school and university system budgets. He, too, declined to give any details.

The biggest areas in dispute are the Assembly Democrats’ demand the state fund all-day kindergarten, which of two major capital improvement projects for the university system to fund, and how to put enough money into the millennium scholarship program to keep it functioning.

All-day kindergarten would cost $72 million this biennium. But only about $12 million would be spent in the first year as start-up costs

The bulk of the cost of operating all-day kindergarten is in the second year, which means the program would cost at least $130 million the following biennium.

Raggio prefers the governor’s proposed Commission on Educational Excellence, which allows schools to apply for grants for a variety of programs, including all-day kindergarten.

Chris Giunchigliani, D-Las Vegas, says all-day kindergarten is a proven way to improve student achievement and it should be implemented statewide.

The two university projects are top priorities for Raggio and Arberry. Raggio wants more than $30 million for a science and math building at University of Nevada, Reno, while Arberry wants $25 million for a transplant center in Southern Nevada operated by the school of medicine.

Tied up in the debate are several pieces of legislation, including Buckley’s bill to help Nevadans access cheap Canadian prescription drugs. That proposal was amended by the Senate to require federal approval before operating the program – a requirement that would effectively prevent the program from ever working.

n Contact reporter Geoff Dornan at gdornan@nevadaappeal.com or 687-8750.

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