Budget busters

BRAD HORN/Nevada Appeal Assembly Bills are bound into books in the Ways and Means Committee room at the Nevada State Legislature early Friday morning.

BRAD HORN/Nevada Appeal Assembly Bills are bound into books in the Ways and Means Committee room at the Nevada State Legislature early Friday morning.

Members of the Nevada Senate and Assembly have filed 112 pieces of legislation asking for nearly $3 billion for projects and programs not included in Gov. Kenny Guinn's proposed budget.

The bills, although not likely to all be approved, call for adding more than 50 percent to the governor's $5.7 billion two-year budget plan.

Most of the requested increase - $1.99 billion - is in two monster Senate proposals designed to bring funding for public schools in Nevada up to or beyond the national average.

Another $572 million is in bills that raise starting pay for teachers to $32,500, mandate all-day kindergarten and pump $100 million into the Millennium Scholarship program.

Even with those proposals removed, individual legislators and study committees are seeking appropriations that call for $436.8 million more in spending over the biennium.

In all, education programs account for $2.6 billion of the requested increases.

The biggest single measure was proposed by Sen. Mike Schneider, D-Las Vegas, who admitted it has no real chance for passage. SB2 would require that Nevada schools be "funded at the national average." Analysts who drafted the proposal say it would require $1.34 billion.

Schneider said the purpose of the legislation was to put that number on the table to show everyone how far Nevada lags behind most states in funding for public schools.

Right behind that is the so-called "iNVest" proposal by Nevada's county school districts. SB284 asks for $646.2 million from the state general fund to do much the same as Schneider's bill. It has about the same minuscule chance of passing, since both measures would necessitate massive tax increases.

That leaves more than 100 bills that either include appropriations or mandate increases to existing budgets.

Altogether, members of the Assembly are asking for $256.8 million in 57 proposals. That total doesn't include $100 million for the Millennium Scholarship program, $72 million for all-day kindergarten and $400 million to raise teacher starting salaries.

Not counting the two monsters bills, senators are seeking $179.9 million in 51 pieces of legislation.

Most members in each house aren't asking for any additions to the budget. But calculated as an average - excluding the five big education bills - Assembly members are seeking $6.1 million apiece, while senators are seeking $8.6 million apiece. When those big bills are figured in, the numbers quadruple.

Other than Schneider, the legislator with the most dollar signs behind his name is Assemblyman Bob McCleary, D-Las Vegas, because of his proposal to raise teacher starting pay nearly $3,000 a year. That would raise teacher pay throughout the ranks.

McCleary also has a $19 million proposal to build a transportation technology center at the Community College of Southern Nevada in Las Vegas.

Speaker Richard Perkins, D-Henderson is next because of his proposal to put $100 million from the surplus into the Millennium Scholarship program.

Right behind him is Assembly Speaker ProTem Chris Giunchigliani, D-Las Vegas - again because of a single major proposal: $71.9 million for all-day kindergarten.

Those aren't the only big ticket items. There are no less than 17 proposals with price tags higher than $10 million.

One of the biggest is SB179, a Highway Patrol Association proposal to automatically set state law enforcement salaries at the average pay of law enforcement agencies in Washoe and Clark counties. The estimated cost of that bill over the next two years is $42.3 million.

Another major cost is Sen. Bob Coffin's proposal to pay soldiers called to active duty in a war zone $500 a month to help their families cope with the financial hardships. Estimated cost next year alone: $21.6 million. While he estimated the following year could be just $3 million, he admitted no one knows.

A package of three bills designed to upgrade mental health services in the state totals $53.3 million. Clark County wants $15 million to buy the same kind of voting machines the other 16 Nevada counties received for the last elections. And a bipartisan group of Senators wants to put $10 million into an economic development fund for rural Nevada.

These are the bills that will occupy much of the time in the Senate Finance and Assembly Ways and Means Committees over the next few weeks. All are exempt from the deadline last Friday because they contain appropriations

No decisions are expected on most of them until near the end of the legislative session.

n Contact reporter Geoff Dornan at gdornan@nevadaappeal.com or 687-8750.


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