Gibbons, Democrats disagree on education plans

Cathleen Allison/Nevada Appeal Nevada Gov. Jim Gibbons gave his State of the State address Monday night at the Legislature. Gibbons unveiled a record $7 billion budget for lawmakers that does not include any tax increase.

Cathleen Allison/Nevada Appeal Nevada Gov. Jim Gibbons gave his State of the State address Monday night at the Legislature. Gibbons unveiled a record $7 billion budget for lawmakers that does not include any tax increase.

Although he called for nonpartisan unity to resolve Nevada's problems, several major proposals in Gov. Jim Gibbons first State of the State address Monday drew protests from Democrats.

The loudest objections came when Gibbons said with only one year's track record, all-day kindergarten hasn't yet proven itself in Nevada. He proposed continuing it in just at-risk schools rather than expanding it to all schools - saving more than $100 million over the biennium. He said once the data is in, if the program is as good as supporters claim, he would support it.

That position has support from Senate Majority Leader Bill Raggio, R-Reno, as well as Senate Finance Vice Chairman Bob Beers, R-Las Vegas, and other Republicans.

But Assembly Speaker Barbara Buckley, D-Las Vegas, said that's not true, that the program has been in effect several years in Southern Nevada, funded by the federal government in Title I schools, and has proven to have significant effects on student achievement. Debbie Smith, D-Las Vegas, said all-day kindergarten has proven itself in numerous other states as well.

Instead, Gibbons called for an Empowerment Program giving principals and teachers in a pilot group of 100 schools much more authority to decide how best to teach their students.

Carson City's Bonnie Parnell, who chairs the Assembly Education Committee, said they simply don't know enough about the program to comment on it.

And Buckley said unfortunately, he funded the program by taking away money currently used for teacher incentives instead of new money. And she said parents want programs for all students, not just those in at-risk schools.

While most of the proposals in his speech were already in outgoing Gov. Kenny Guinn's budget, he managed to make his mark in several areas.

He proposed lowering the Modified Business Tax to 0.62 percent, giving nearly 56,000 Nevada businesses a break and reducing tax collections by more than $28 million. He also called for eliminating the $1,750 per branch bank franchise fee for another $5.9 million in savings to business.

He changed Guinn's proposed 3 percent raises each year for state worker and teacher salaries to 2 percent the first year and 4 percent the second. That saves about $31 million over the biennium which would go to offset the $4 billion unfunded liability the state faces for subsidies to retiring state workers.

He proposed reorganizing the board which manages employee benefits into "a new panel of experts and professionals who have the appropriate skill set to lead our state through what is a looming financial storm."

Gibbons put together $17.4 million in programs to fight methamphetamine addiction in Nevada and charged a working group led by Nevada Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto with developing recommendations for the Legislature by April.

He drew fire from Democrats with a proposal to expand the Homestead Act, which protects individual residences from foreclosure, to cover homes up to $550,000 and to allow owners to also claim a homestead exemption for second and vacation homes.

Democrats charged that is a gift to the rich.

He said he wants to dedicate tax-free bonds to help first-time home buyers, especially teachers and nurses. But Sheila Leslie, D-Reno, vice chairwoman of the Assembly Ways and Means Committee, said the state already does that.

He said he is proposing a 24 percent increase in payments to Medicaid providers over the biennium and increases in the amount paid for foster care.

Marcus Conklin, D-Las Vegas, said most of the human services programs Gibbons mentioned are already in place including problem gambling programs and mental health programs.

Gibbons received agreement from most on both sides of the aisle when he called for legislation to head off final passage of the anti-condemnation PISTOL initiative. He said the state should by statute and then amendment bar government from taking private property by condemning it then turning it over to private people or business.

State officials say PISTOL does that but goes much farther and could cause decade-long delays and much higher costs for highway and other major projects. Specifically, the initiative says any condemned property not used for a public purpose within five years must be sold back to the original owner at the original price. Then the state would have to buy it back to continue the project at current prices. NDOT officials say that would effectively prevent construction of major highway projects.

Gibbons said it's critical to balance the rights of property owners with the needs of government to provide services and made it clear he believes PISTOL goes too far.

Gibbons said he won't support higher gas taxes saying instead that he believes developing public-private partnerships can help fund badly needed highway projects. He left in place the $170 million in surplus funding Guinn set aside to jump-start the next phase of Interstate 15 in Las Vegas.

And he said he supports spending $110 million in surplus money to begin building the Health Sciences Center project within the university system. The Health Sciences Center would expand health programs throughout the university and community college system and is the regents' top priority this legislative session.

Gibbons also called for better campaign disclosure, saying candidates should report their full contributions and expenses before early voting instead of just before election day.

And he wants to expand laws protecting Nevada families from sex offenders, requiring out-of-state offenders to submit DNA samples and expanding the program to have offenders wear GPS ankle bracelets so their whereabouts can be tracked 24/7.

After the speech, Gibbons refused reporter requests for answers to questions and left the building.

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

If you missed the State of the State address ...

Access Carson City will rebroadcasting Gov. Jim Gibbons' State of the State address on cable Channel 26. It will pre-empt some of the channel's previously advertised programming.

• Today, 5:30 p.m.

• Wednesday, 9 p.m.

• Thursday, 4:30 p.m.

• Friday, 11 a.m.

• Saturday, 7 p.m.

• Sunday, 3 p.m.

• Monday, 8 a.m.

• Jan. 30, 7:30 p.m.

• Jan. 31, noon

• Feb. 1, 10 p.m.

• Feb. 2, 12:30 p.m.

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