Some state museums may close

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Critics of deep budget cuts that would reduce state library hours and close some museums told lawmakers Thursday that the cuts proposed by Gov. Jim Gibbons would hurt tourism and disproportionately affect rural areas and low-income Nevadans.

Under the proposal, spending on cultural programs would be cut nearly 36 percent, to $19.1 million during two years.

The just-renovated East Ely Railroad Depot Museum and the Comstock History Center in Virginia City, would be closed.

The staff of the Nevada Historical Society would be cut, and surviving museums would be open only four days per week.

"My children cut their teeth at the Nevada Historical Society," said Sen. Bernice Mathews, D-Reno. "I just can't imagine children who live in my neighborhood, which is a very underserved kind of a neighborhood, not having that exposure.

"Here we are, and a whole generation of children is not going to be exposed to that. I just think it's kind of sad. ... How can we live without culture?"

State Cultural Affairs Director Michael Fischer, in presenting the budget reduction plan to legislative money committees, said the closures would hurt business owners in rural areas of the state.

"In the small rural areas, many of those businesses are reliant on the people that come in to see us," Fischer said. "We're actually the reason people stay an extra day, enhancing both sales tax revenue and room taxes."

Criticism for the cutbacks came from all corners of a packed hearing room, and the legislators challenged Fischer to justify the proposal.

"When you started, you said that you preserve, protect and enhance Nevada's cultural resources, and you're stewards of Nevada's past, present and future," said Assemblyman Moises Denis, D-Las Vegas. "With this budget, I'm thinking, which one of those are you cutting?"

The state Library and Archives also would be seriously affected by a 35 percent budget reduction.

Library hours would be slashed from eight to four hours per day, limiting public access to government publications and reference materials, and half the staff would be gone.


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