Cultural programs to run at minimum

Members of a Senate-Assembly budget panel made funding decisions Thursday that keep state cultural programs, museums and libraries operating at essential levels by erasing at least $1.5 million in budget cuts proposed by Gov. Jim Gibbons.

The Republican governor has called for deep cuts to the Nevada Department of Cultural Affairs. Overall, the department's general fund budget would be slashed by nearly

40 percent, to $19.1 million and would eliminate 66 out of 187 positions within the agency.

Budget subcommittee members initially wanted $3 million in add-backs, but lack of funding led them to make "difficult and unpleasant choices," said Assemblyman Moises Denis, D-Las Vegas, the panel's co-chairman.

"Right now, we have to raise $500 million " half a billion dollars " just to get the governor's budget, which none of us find acceptable," Denis said. "We obviously got elected to make the decisions, and they're not what we really want for the state, but we're going to work with what we have to keep things going."

A large number of senior staff such as museum curators and program directors have already made plans to take similar jobs in other states because of the proposed cuts, fiscal staffers told the subcommittee.

Denis said another $500,000 meant to retain those senior staffers could still be added back at a later subcommittee meeting.

Museum representatives urged panel members to find a way to reduce salary cuts, saying such staff members offer invaluable knowledge.

"They bring years of experience and passion for Nevada history that's not just easy to go out on the street and replace," said Peter Barton, acting administrator for the Nevada Division of Museums.

The panel was divided along Senate and Assembly lines when it came to the elimination of the Nevada Literacy Office at the governor's recommendation. Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford, D-North Las Vegas, said he "couldn't support anything that cuts literacy," even if literacy help would be available at local levels. Denis said that issue would have to be resolved later.

Fiscal staff said adding $1.5 million back to the department budget would be "a good skeleton on which to build" when sources of funding become available in the future.

Minimal funding was approved for the Nevada Holocaust Council, the East Ely Railroad Museum and Comstock Historic District in Virginia City, all which the governor proposed closing.

Subcommittee members went with governor recommendations to keep the Lost City Museum, the Nevada State Museum in Carson City and the Railroad Museum in Carson City open four days a week.

Panel members also made funding decisions that would keep both the public gallery and research library at the Nevada Historical Society open four days a week. The governor's budget proposes to close the gallery.

Members also recommended to redirect federal grants to continue the state's site stewardship program which would have been eliminated under the governor's budget.

The panel also approved the governor's recommendation to reduce operations at the Nevada State Library to four hours a day, five days a week and to reduce funds to purchase periodicals and other materials.

The panel also recommended restoring hours of operation at the state records center to five days per week and restoring the state archives to four hours per day, five days a week or eight hours a day, two days a week depending on decisions made by the archive staff. Under the governor's recommendation, the archives would have operated on an appointment only basis and the state's records center would be open for three days per week.

The budget panel also agreed to fund the Nevada Humanities program at a cost of $100,000 over the next two years, which wasn't initially included in the $1.5 million add-back costs and which would not be funded through the governor's proposed budget.

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