Conservative group suggests budget remedies

Building a state budget based on performance, giving tax breaks to businesses to support public school scholarships and raising tuition at universities could save taxpayers billions of dollars, according to a report released Thursday by a conservative Nevada think tank.

A report by Geoffrey Lawrence of the Nevada Policy Research Center also advocates requiring co-payments for some medical programs that serve the poor and abolishing class-size reduction and all day kindergarten.

The report, titled "Better Budgeting for Better Results," was released four days before Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval releases his proposed spending plan for the next two years.

The report claimed its ideas that also included reforms to public safety and government collective bargaining laws could save the state $3.5 billion.

Sandoval said "performance-based budgeting" - a concept advocated in the report - will be incorporated in his spending recommendation. He has provided few other details, other than his call for 5 percent salary cuts for all state employees and teachers.

Lawrence's report criticized class-size reduction measures and all day kindergarten required at some schools in Clark County as ineffective and wasteful.

Class-size reduction programs likely "dilute the teacher talent pool and expose more students to less effective teachers," while any benefit from all day kindergarten "tends to dissipate by the end of the third year," the report said.

It also suggested Nevada could save $31 million in two years if it implemented a program similar to one in Florida, that allows companies to fund private school tuition in exchange for tax credits. Students in K-12 could then draw scholarships to pay tuition at a school of their choice.

Concerning higher education, the report said tuition at fees at Nevada's two public universities are nearly half the national average and substantially less than costs in public institutions in nearby states.

"Students who do not directly bear most of the cost of their education do not have to fully justify the investment by a gain in earning potential," the report said.

Dan Klaich, chancellor of the Nevada System of Higher Education, has said with Nevada leading the nation in unemployment, more and more people are entering or returning to school to improve their job skills, and that raising tuition or fees would make higher education unaffordable for many.

In health care, the report advocates imposing co-payments for children covered under Nevada Check Up, a program that provides health insurance coverage to children ineligible for coverage under Medicaid.

"Individuals facing no direct personal cost for care are likely to receive more care than they require - driving up costs," the report said.

It suggest a "simple $5 copay" for all doctor office visits "could be expected to significantly lower the program's cost without impact the health of most children."

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