Leaders agree on Nevada's budget

Nevada's Assembly and Senate leaders agreed Friday to a record $5 billion, two-year budget, narrowing lawmakers' focus to compromising on an adequate tax plan by Monday when the 2003 session is supposed to end.

Closed-door negotiations that achieved little progress all week finally paid off as the leaders reconciled differences over big-ticket public education issues including teacher raises, class-size reduction and one extra school day.

Assembly Majority Leader Barbara Buckley said late Friday that staffers are now preparing an appropriations bill that needs $859 million in new revenue to fund it.

Buckley and other Democratic Assembly leaders gave up on an extra instructional day in the school year, a plan that would have cost $11 million each year.

Democrats also dropped their bid for higher teacher pay. Under the deal, teachers will get a 2.75 percent increase in the first year of the coming two-year budget cycle, and another 2 percent in the second year. All state workers also will get a 2 percent increase in the second year.

Republican Senate leaders had been fighting to maintain a 16-1 student-to-teacher ratio for the state's class-size reduction plan, while Assembly Democrats wanted more flexibility in the plan and extend it to kindergarten. The agreement included some class-size reduction flexibility.

Buckley, D-Las Vegas, said that with a spending level established, all remaining negotiations will focus on how to raise the additional money needed to fund the plan.

"We have a budget number," Buckley said. "Now it's on to the tax plan."

Senate Taxation Chairman Mike McGinness, R-Fallon, got his committee to vote for a major revision of its earlier $560 million tax package -- a new one he hopes will yield enough taxes to match the latest, agreed-upon spending need. Its "big gun" is a payroll tax businesses would pay for each employee.

Leaders from both houses broke up closed-door talks on spending at about 8:30 p.m. but will continue discussions over the weekend.

Assembly Taxation Chairman David Parks' committee already had endorsed a tax plan that would generate enough revenue. However, the Assembly and Senate versions rely on different sources, and a compromise will have to be worked out.

Assembly Speaker Richard Perkins, D-Henderson, said Friday was the last day leaders could reach a budget agreement and still adjourn on time when the legislative session is scheduled to end Monday.

Without a budget and tax plan in place, the lawmakers faced the prospect of a special session. Republican Gov. Kenny Guinn, whose own tax plan was nearly $1 billion, said he'd agree to call a special session so that lawmakers could get their work done -- but he'd want the session to be short.


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