Gov. Jim Gibbons on Thursday warned Nevada's university system Board of Regents to start thinking about what a decrease in state revenue could do to its budget.
"What I'm hearing as early projections out of the Economic Forum is that revenue projections are going to be $50 million lower than expected," he told the board in remarks lasting less than five minutes. "That's a significant amount in our budget.
"If those general funds are lower, we have to sit down and talk about your budgets," he said.
The forum makes the official revenue projections, which must by law be used to balance the state budget. It projected total general fund revenues for the coming two years of just about $7 billion when it met in December. And those projections were used to build the governor's proposed budget.
But the forum meets again in May before adjournment of the Legislature to finalize its projections and all indicators say the governor and lawmakers should expect those projections to be reduced slightly.
Gibbons said that with the statutory cap on spending looming and revenue growth flattening, "The state's share of funding for the higher education system is going to have to go through a period of adjustment."
If cuts are necessary in May, he said, it won't be by "taking a meat ax to the budget.
"I'm not going to cut every program by X-amount," he said.
"I think essential services in the state of Nevada, like education, need to be given a priority."
He said he hopes in the long run the state will be able to increase the percentage formula funding it provides the system from the current 86 percent. The goal, he said, is 100 percent.
But Gibbons backed the regents one contentious issue, saying he supports UNR President Milton Glick's call for lawmakers to stop taking a portion of student fees for the general fund and leave the money with the system to spend.
"I think that is a good idea," Gibbons said.
That comment may put him at odds with Senate Majority Leader Bill Raggio, R-Reno, and Ways and Means Chairman Morse Arberry, D-Las Vegas, who made it clear last week they don't like the earmarking of fee increases by the campuses because it reduces fee revenue going to the state. Lawmakers have, in fact, ordered the system to increase the percentage of total fees going to the state from 40 percent to 69 percent.
Gibbons said after addressing the regents Thursday that he thinks it makes sense to turn the money over to the system directly and let them put it into campus programs.
The Board of Regents agenda today includes:
• Requests by Clark County Community College and Western Nevada Community College to remove the word "community" from their names since both institutions now offer four-year bachelor's degrees in certain specialties.
• Overview of the status of the system's master plan including demographics, enrollment data and other information.
• Executive Vice Chancellor Dan Klaich will report to the board on the status of university system initiatives and the budget in the 2007 Legislature.
• Campus and student presidents will report to the board on their efforts to reduce the overall cost of textbooks.
• Contact reporter Geoff Dornan at email@example.com or 687-8750.