5/24/03 6:27 PM Inches: 17.8 REGULAR BC-NV-XGR-Look-Ahead 05-24 0757



Associated Press Writer

CARSON CITY, Nev. (AP) -- Nevada lawmakers are drawing closer to agreement on a two-year state budget that could hit a record $5 billion -- depending on how they resolve remaining differences over public school funding.

The legislators, getting closer to a June 2 adjournment, took Sunday off but are returning on Memorial Day to see if a compromise can be worked out. The Assembly's K-12 funding proposal is more than $200 million higher than the Senate's version.

Also, the lawmakers will continue today with efforts to reach a compromise on a record tax increase plan that could generate nearly $1 billion in new revenues to balance the budget.

A modified version of Republican Gov. Kenny Guinn's 0.25 percent gross receipts tax on businesses could become the bridge between rival Assembly and Senate tax proposals. The so-called Unified Business Tax is backed by key lawmakers on both sides.

Saturday's legislative agenda didn't include meetings by taxation committees. But Assembly Ways and Means and Senate Finance members, after a long, closed-door meeting of several key legislators, settled a long list of budget differences.

"We've got some heavy lifting yet to do, but I think we made great progress today," Assembly Speaker Richard Perkins, D-Henderson, said after the budget committees held a joint meeting.

While Guinn chief of staff Marybel Batjer agreed the money panels were moving ahead, she didn't like one decision -- to cut a requested $750,000 increase in the prison inmate food budget in half.

Earlier, the governor had said the $750,000 increase would bring the average amount spent daily on food per inmate to just $2.29 -- and that's less than the average $2.50 budgeted for feeding each wild horse under state control.

Perkins, Senate Majority Leader Bill Raggio, R-Reno, and other key leaders who met privately Saturday to discuss budget differences plan another closed-door session Monday on the K-12 funding issue.

More activity by taxation committees also is expected, although Raggio said he didn't see the Assembly plan for nearly $1 billion in new levies getting the two-thirds vote in the Legislature that's needed for its approval.

"My sense is to get two-thirds support, it has to be an amount that can be justified in the public's mind, as well as the Legislature's mind," Raggio said. The Senate Taxation Committee has come up with a proposal to raise at least $730 million.

Also today, the Assembly is scheduled to vote on AB7, which would reduce Nevada's 0.10 blood-alcohol standard for drunken driving to 0.08. The state faces the loss of some federal highway funding unless the lower standard is approved.

In the Senate, a vote is scheduled on AB320, one of the measures dealing with the state's medical malpractice insurance crisis.

Other action today includes an Assembly Commerce and Labor Committee on SB400, a proposal to bar Nevada from regulating broadband services such as high-speed Internet. AT&T and WorldCom are fighting the bill sought by telecom giants Sprint and SBC Communications.

Senate Government Affairs plans a hearing on SB497, a measure pushed by Raggio that would raise money for a baseball stadium in the Reno-Sparks area by taxing rental cars. The rental car industry opposes the bill on grounds it unfairly taxes one industry and funding for stadiums should come from local tax sources.

Meetings scheduled for Tuesday include a joint Assembly Ways and Means and Assembly Education session on Nevada's efforts to implement the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

Also Tuesday, Senate Finance has scheduled a meeting, along with Assembly Taxation and Assembly Elections Procedures and Ethics.

Wednesday's posted agendas include another Senate Finance session and an Assembly Ways and Means hearing -- reflecting the final-week focus on wrapping up all work on the budget bills.

Thursday's list includes a Senate Finance meeting and an Assembly Taxation session. And the only legislative committee meeting listed for Friday is a Senate Finance session.

The final week of the four-month-long 2003 session is expected to run into the weekend as lawmakers conclude their efforts. By law, they could stay in session through the weekend and leave on Monday, June 2. However, Perkins has held out hope for adjournment a day or two early.


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