Nevada legislative leaders talk education behind closed doors

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Legislative leadership met behind closed doors Saturday to try to reach agreement on major changes proposed for the system of higher education budgets.

No decisions were expected from the 8 a.m. session in the Assembly caucus room.

But the meetings with representatives from both houses and parties signal that lawmakers are getting down to business working out differences.

The session lasted until just 10:15 a.m. because Assembly Speaker Marilyn Kirkpatrick, D-North Las Vegas, and Senate Majority Leader Mo Denis, D-Las Vegas, among others had reservations on an 11:35 a.m. flight from Reno to Las Vegas.

Kirkpatrick said the purpose for the session with university officials was to get a better understanding of how the new funding formula would affect the different institutions in the university system.

“I need to understand the changes better,” she said.

Assembly Majority Leader William Horne, D-Las Vegas, said the informational meeting was needed for him as well.

“We were originally supposed to have a work session (on higher education) today,” he said, referring to the money committee meeting originally set for Saturday. “I chair the subcommittee, and I wasn’t comfortable.”

After the meeting, Kirkpatrick — who isn’t on the subcommittee reviewing NSHE budgets — said she had a much better grasp of how the formula will work.

The new formula developed during the interim shifts funding from credits taken by students more toward credits completed. But within the formula, it is specifically designed to move more money to the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, Nevada State College and the College of Southern Nevada — all in Clark County.

Those changes have raised objections from some quarters — particularly because of the potential impact to Western Nevada College and Great Basin College, which provide classes and services to the Carson City area and most of rural Nevada.

Sen. Pete Goicoechea, R-Eureka, has said that those campuses can’t take any more cuts. He has called for a “hold-harmless” package to protect them at least for this budget cycle and the next.

Sen. Ben Kieckhefer, R-Reno, whose district encompasses most of the turf served by WNC, said after the meeting that he was working to protect that campus.

As for the secrecy — the meeting was not announced publicly or even to most members of the Senate and Assembly — Kirkpatrick said, “we’re entitled to meet with our staff.”

Lawmakers in attendance included money committee chairs Debbie Smith, D-Sparks, of Senate Finance; Maggie Carlton, D-Las Vegas, of Ways and Means; Kirkpatrick and her counterpart, Denis; and Senate Minority Leader Michael Roberson, D-Las Vegas. Also there were Kieckhefer; Assembly Minority Leader Pat Hickey, R-Reno; Cresent Hardy, R-Mesquite; and Assembly Majority Leader William Horne, D-Las Vegas.

They were joined by university system Chancellor Dan Klaich and his fiscal people and Legislative Counsel Bureau fiscal staff.

There have been five or six core group meetings this session, Smith said.


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