University system asks for budget increase

ELKO - University officials told the Nevada Board of Regents on Thursday that even before enrollment growth and inflation are considered, they'll need at least 11.45 percent more state funding in their two-year budget.

If approved, the amount would increase total state support for the university system $187.2 million to $1.47 billion for the 2006-8 budget cycle.

According to the preliminary budget proposal presented to regents Thursday, the total is split almost evenly between increases to the existing requirements and enhanced or new programs.

But there are several large and costly elements which aren't in the total yet - the largest of which is $89.2 million in programs now supported by the federal estate tax.

The 2003 Legislature agreed in its final days to run that part of the university's budget through the state general fund. The effect of the decision was to make the estate tax portion of the budget a state responsibility.

In the past, the university system received estate taxes directly. If more came in than expected, they benefited but, if the amount was less, the campuses had to find some other way to make up any shortfall in estate tax revenues. University officials wanted the change because Congress, strongly supported by Rep. Jim Gibbons, R-Nev., is phasing out the estate tax credit.

Regent Marcia Bandera said ensuring that the 2005 Legislature continues to cover those costs must be a top priority.

"If we don't get the $89 million covered, the rest of this doesn't make a lot of sense," she said.

Vice chancellor for Finance and Administration Buster Neel said other items not in the proposal presented Thursday include inflation and rate changes for services such as utilities. Nor does it include the effects of growth in the number of students. All those, he said, will add substantially to budget needs.

In addition, Neel said the system plans to ask lawmakers to increase formula funding for instruction and support services from 84.25 percent this biennium to 87 percent. Those formulas provide more than $120 million in the current budget, so raising the percentage to 87 percent would cost more than $4 million even with no increase in the number of students or classes.

Neel said projected enrollments will be ready for the board's August meeting.

The top priority on the list of enhancements is expansion of nursing programs. Lawmakers last session asked the system to double its nursing classes to meet a severe shortage in Nevada.

The total cost could reach $7.1 million. That would not only provide a lower student-teacher ratio in the system's nursing programs but continue summer programs and establish a bachelor's degree program in nursing at Great Basin.

Most regents agreed that should be the top priority but indicated they want much more detail on the rest of the proposal before acting.

The largest of base budget adjustments is $26 million for professional employee merit pay increases. That total was calculated on the same 2.5 percent merit formula the university system has used for more than a decade. Accompanying that is a corresponding request for $8.42 million for classified employee salary adjustments and a $9.7 million increase in part-time salaries.

The priorities were developed by system presidents and will be refined both by Neel's staff and the regents before a final budget proposal is sent to the state.

Contact Geoff Dornan at or at 687-8750.


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