Budget talks collapse over schools' needs

Budget negotiations collapsed again Thursday as Nevada's Assembly Democrats issued an ultimatum to the Senate, demanding funding for statewide all-day kindergarten.

Backed by Ways and Means Chairman Morse Arberry and Vice Chairwoman Chris Giunchigliani, both D-Las Vegas, Speaker Richard Perkins, D-Henderson, told Senate Majority Leader Bill Raggio, R-Reno, there would be no budget agreement without all-day kindergarten and walked out.

"Given what I saw, yes I'd have to call it an ultimatum," said one of the lawmakers present.

It was the second straight day negotiations ended with tempers flaring and no progress. Wednesday it was a dispute between Raggio and Arberry - a classic north-south battle for capital construction money.

Arberry wants $25 million to start development of a transplant center for the University of Nevada Medical School. It would be located on land donated by Las Vegas next to the planned Ruvo Alzheimer's Center. He said, the medical school and a Pittsburgh research foundation have been working two years on the project he says will eventually make the Nevada school a leader in teaching and performing transplants.

But Raggio wants to put more than $30 million into a math and science building on the UNR campus and build the state of the art CAVE seismic research facility for the Desert Research Institute. There isn't enough to do both.

All-day kindergarten has been touted for several sessions by educators including Giunchigliani, a former teacher, as the best way to improve achievement in Nevada schools. Raggio among others has been skeptical, especially in view of the cost - more than $72 million for this biennium and probably $100 million in the next budget cycle. He also says school districts don't have the classroom space to do it.

Assembly members have suggested using the $100 million in Gov. Kenny Guinn's proposed "educational excellence" fund. Raggio has suggested allowing grants for all-day kindergarten as one use of grants from that fund.

The committees did settle a number of other disputes Thursday.

Despite safety concerns of state Corrections Director Jackie Crawford, the Senate agreed to cut 17 positions from the High Desert State Prison budget. Crawford said the extra staff is vital because of the poor design of the prison and its sheer size. High Desert will eventually house 3,000 inmates. The reduction will save about $1.5 million over the biennium.

The Assembly agreed to add $1.9 million to the Division of Water Resources for staff to reduce the backlog in water rights transfers and applications. Developers and major businesses throughout the state have complained about delays in processing those applications.

Senators agreed to help Las Vegas expand its EVOLVE program providing transitional housing services for female inmates in the south, putting in $195,000 each of the next two years.

The Assembly backed off its insistence that the state's Washington Office lobbying operation be abandoned.

Senators agreed to take over operation of the WIN contract program in the Division of Child and Family Services, which will require hiring 26 people in the north and 40 in the south for a total cost to the state of about $530,000.

Senators also agreed to put some $746,000 into the Sexually Transmitted Disease Control Program to prevent waiting lists for AIDS patients relying on the state for medication.

And the two committees voted to add about $120,000 a year to the Adult Group Care Facility budgets in the Assistance to Aged and Blind program, increasing provider rates $41 a month per client.

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


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