Prison cuts postponed

A plan to help deal with Nevada's budget crisis by cutting out the extra pay that about 450 prison guards get for working swing-shifts has been postponed by Corrections Director Howard Skolnik.

Skolnik said Wednesday that he was able to sideline the plan, which would have saved about $700,000 a year, by freezing staffing positions that currently are vacant.

While the plan to eliminate the 5 percent differential pay for the swing-shift guards is gone for now, Skolnik cautioned that continued revenue problems for the state could result in the plan being revived later.

The prison director said he's glad the differential pay cut can be avoided, but added, "I don't want people to think that this won't ever raise its ugly head again."

The pay cut was among $8.1 million in budget reductions outlined by Skolnik at a July 8 meeting of the state Prison Board. Approval of the reductions was delayed after one panel member said he lacked enough information and wouldn't give a "rubber stamp" endorsement.

Secretary of State Ross Miller, who serves on the board with Gov. Jim Gibbons and Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto, repeatedly questioned Skolnik about the basis for the cutback decisions - the latest in more than $85 million in budget-balancing cuts for the prison system.

Skolnik said at the board meeting that he's been able to avoid all but a few staffing reductions through his moneysaving efforts, terming most of them "the least painful things we could do" to avoid more drastic moves such as another prison or prison camp shutdown.

The latest reductions follow the Legislature's June 27 special session called by Gov. Jim Gibbons to deal with a $1.2 billion state tax revenue shortfall projected through mid-2009. While most agencies now face additional 3.3 percent cuts atop earlier reductions, the 13,000-inmate prison system's cuts work out to just under 3 percent.

The cuts follow a series of dismal reports on slumping revenues from major sources, such as casino and sales taxes, as a result of a housing crisis and slowing tourism industry. In advance of the recent special session, lawmakers and the governor already had slashed many agency operating budgets, delayed building projects and drawn down a state rainy day fund to help cover the revenue gap.

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