Budget issues resolved except for schools

Differences between the two money committees battling over the Nevada budget are resolved -- except for public school funding.

School budgets consume 38 percent of the total $4.89 billion general fund budget -- more than $1.7 billion. As of Saturday, the two committees were $240 million apart on how to fund Nevada's 17 school districts.

Of that total, $140 million in teacher raises is proposed by the Assembly.

The Senate's version of changes to the class-size-reduction budget would save $46 million compared to the Assembly's version.

Others items making up the total include retirement benefits, funding for all-day kindergarten, grants and more.

The state's money committees, the Assembly Ways and Means and Senate Finance, did iron out disagreements Saturday over budgets including prisons, federal lobbying consultants, drug courts and the Nevada Division of Investigations on Saturday.

Leadership resumed meeting in private following the joint meeting Saturday in an attempt to finish the job and complete the budget Monday. Sen. Ray Rawson, R-Las Vegas, and Assemblywoman Chris Giunchigliani, D-Las Vegas, both said the group was making excellent progress on a number of issues.

The biggest dispute involved the prison system's request for $750,000 to cover inflation in the cost of inmate food. The Assembly had rejected the increase despite testimony that the $2.29 per day per inmate was just about half the western states average for prisons. The Senate supported it.

The two agreed on $375,000 for inflation.

The Nevada Division of Investigations was a big winner with the committees agreeing to add back a total of 13 general fund investigative positions cut by the governor's proposed budget. Most of those provide drug interdiction in urban areas and support rural drug task force operations -- which were also restored by both committees.

For western Nevada, that means TriNet will continue to operate in Douglas, Lyon and Carson City.

The Senate agreed local governments should help bear the cost of handling cases before the state Ethics Commission. Analysts say two-thirds of those cases come from the local level so lawmakers agreed to hit the counties for two-thirds of the cost of the commission -- about $470,000 over the biennium.

They settled a dispute over how much general fund money to put into rural drug courts by voting to increase the proposed court assessment fees going to that program from $5 to $7. That should raise the necessary $525,000 extra each year.

Senators originally voted to fund more than $200,000 a year for the higher education program and $165,000 for the college savings plan while the Assembly eliminated both budgets. They split the difference in marketing/advertising money for both programs.

They also agreed to spend $260,000 a year to pay the state's consultants who assist the state as it lobbies in Washington, D.C.

Legislators planned to take Sunday off then get back to work Monday.

If they have the budget completed, the focus will shift to the taxation committees, both of which are hoping to pass revenue plans Monday or Tuesday.

The tentative Senate plan generates $730.3 million over the biennium -- about $100 million short of the minimum needed to pay for the budget. The plan presented by Assembly Democrats on Friday would generate $972.4 million -- about what the governor's original tax proposals would have brought in.

To avoid a special session, both the budget and the tax plan have to be approved by June 2.


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