Accountability before money

We hope a proposal by Regent Mark Alden to raise money for the state's university and community college system through property taxes dies a quick and silent death.

Alden brought up the idea last week at a Board of Regents meeting. It came two days after acting Chancellor Tom Anderes had warned that students may have to pay a bigger share of the system's budget.

The one-two jab at students and taxpayers is the latest round in the system's on-going struggle to wring more money out of Nevadans for the state's universities and colleges, which now operate on a two-year budget of about $840 million.

Recall this spring's skirmishes in the Legislature between Las Vegas and Reno over whether the northern campus was getting the lion's share of state funds, despite far more rapid growth at the southern end of the state.

By our math, the system is spending about $9,500 a year to educate each of the state's 44,000 students. Lawmakers recommended during the 1999 session that fees go up 75 cents a credit, from the $71.50 per credit at universities and $41 per credit at community colleges they pay now.

Students should expect to see an increase. It's true that the revenue generated by those fees - about $36 million - doesn't go far to meet an $840 million budget.

As for property taxes, there is simply no justification for locking up a portion of those revenues for the university system.

Throughout the year-long discussion, we have waited for someone to stand up and say that the university system is operating just as efficiently as it possibly can. Nobody has.

Instead, we got a study on whether funding at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas is "equitable" with the funding at the University of Nevada, Reno.

The evaluation Gov. Kenny Guinn has undertaken for state government - including the university system - should give us a better idea whether each and every position in the university system is warranted, and every dollar is being well spent.

We still have a bad taste in our mouths from the controversy this summer over whether the universities have a responsibility to find a job for spouses when they hire a new president. This practice - for spouses of people making more than $100,000 a year - makes us think the university and college budgets are not quite as tight as administrators would like us to believe.

Just three years ago, a legislative audit was critical of the way the university system was handling its money. One item we recall was that more than $800,000 earmarked for instruction had been used to fund non-instruction positions. Another example was $3.2 million in UNLV student funds being used to erase unidentified budget deficits.

Taxpayers and students deserve to know their money is being spent well before anybody goes reaching into their pockets for more.


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