The head of Nevada's university and community college system challenged the governor's $300 million vehicle fee rebate plan Monday, saying the money should be used to build new classrooms for the state's ballooning student population.
"Quite frankly, higher education could use every nickel of that money," Interim Chancellor Jim Rogers told a joint Senate-Assembly budget committee. Rogers is one of several university officials who will plead their cases to lawmakers in the coming weeks.
Rogers asked the committee to consider funding three building projects that were either partially funded or left out entirely of Gov. Kenny Guinn's budget.
Guinn's plan to return $300 million of the state's surplus to taxpayers through a vehicle registration rebate has been questioned by members of both parties since it was outlined in detail last week. Guinn has said a rebate of up to $300 per registration is necessary to avoid a taxpayer revolt.
Rogers said he doesn't think the rebate will have much effect.
"I hope, no matter what happens, that that money won't be refunded. I just think that its impact is going to be spread over so many people, that it's not going to have any impact," he said after his testimony.
Rogers asked lawmakers to use part of the surplus funds for a $32 million science and math building at the University of Nevada, Reno, a $10 million automotive technology building and a $10 million classroom building both at the Community College of Southern Nevada.
The governor's budget chipped in $5 million for the new classroom building, but asked the University and Community College System of Nevada to finance the rest with $28 million in estate taxes revenues.
Enrollment in the state's community college and university system is rising at about 6 percent a year. Some 100,000 students are currently enrolled.
Rogers said many students aren't prepared for the university and would be better off at a community college. He said regents are considering directing more students to those schools by raising acceptance requirements at UNLV and UNR, but such a proposal would be premature if the state college and community colleges did not have the buildings to accommodate more students.