Senate panel puts money back into university budgets

Nevada's Senate Finance Committee voted Tuesday to add back most of what a joint subcommittee cut out of the university system budgets last week.

Actions by the Senate members of that subcommittee cut $17.5 million from the proposed budget. The Assembly members went even farther, cutting $28.2 million from the $1 billion proposed spending plan.

The decision to restore most of those cuts sets up some serious differences with the Assembly Ways and Means Committee in finalizing the system budget.

The biggest single cut came when lawmakers reclaimed $23.5 million freed up by lower than projected enrollments.

University officials had asked lawmakers to leave that money in the budget, pointing out it would restore the formula funding to 86 percent - which is what it was budgeted at two years ago. At that point, higher than expected enrollments forced the formula down to 84 percent because legislators refused to add in more money.

Formula funding is the basis of the university system's budget, providing amounts based on the enrollment of the different community college and university campuses. Each percent change in the formula costs the state about $10 million.

Finance Chairman Bill Raggio, R-Reno, signaled he was at least willing to add back some money, telling university representatives "I'd personally like to stay within the dollar amount already recommended by the governor."

But he made it clear he didn't want to put all that money back into the formula.

Minority Leader Dina Titus, D-Las Vegas, a University of Nevada. Las Vegas political science professor, suggested using $10 million to increase the formula by a percent, then putting $13.5 million into the system's top unfunded priorities: nursing programs, expansion of the medical school and technology.

Vice Chancellor Danny Klaich said adding $3 million to cover the cost-of-living raises for professors and professional staff, $4.3 million for the medical school, $4 million for nursing and $2.2 million for technology would work out just about right.

The committee approved those changes.

Another major difference from the Assembly plan is over the handling of merit pay for university top professors. The Assembly committee voted not to allow merit pay for professors who are at the top of their scale or above.

Jim Richardson of the Nevada Faculty Alliance told Senators that tells senior people "by the way, you can never get a merit increase in the future."

"The action of the Assembly subcommittee was perhaps the most destructive thing they did in terms of our ability to hire and retain faculty," he said.

Senators voted to allow top-scale faculty to apply for merit raises.

Another bone of contention between the Senate and Assembly was the addition of staff to support the dental school, which is heading for its fourth year of operation.

Dental school officials say that means the Legislature must add the money to provide the intensive clinical training for the school's first senior class. Assembly members voted to add enough funding to provide the same teacher-student ratio as it provides for second- and third-year students. That would cost about $1 million a year.

School officials balked, saying to ensure first-class training for new dentists, they need a ratio of 1:6 - not double that or higher.

Senators agreed and voted to add the full $2.8 million each year recommended by the governor to hire 26 new faculty at the Las Vegas school.

- Contact reporter Geoff Dornan at or 687-8750.


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