Courts and university protest budget cuts
The courts and the university system have both sent letters to the governor’s office protesting his orders they cut two-thirds of their requested enhancements to help the state through its budget shortfall.
Projections completed a week ago show the state’s revenues for the coming two-year budget cycle will fall at least $111.8 million below the amounts estimated in November, forcing the state to cut that much from Gov. Jim Gibbons’ proposed spending plan.
That would require the system of higher education to chop some $32.9 million out of its funding requests and the supreme court to reduce its total general fund request by $7.6 million.
Supreme Court Chief Justice Bill Maupin responded with an offer of $2.7 million in reductions from the supreme court operating budgets. But, he said, it isn’t possible or fair to require cuts to the funding enhancements for the specialty courts or the requests for judicial salaries.
University Chancellor Jim Rogers, however, rejected the idea of cutting budget requests completely saying, “To do so would, I believe, threaten the very fabric of higher education in this state.”
The reaction from the governor and from legislative leadership was less than pleased. Gibbons said he wouldn’t accept a “blanket refusal to cooperate.”
Senate Finance Vice Chairman Bob Beers, R-Las Vegas, charged Maupin was “stonewalling” while Senate Majority Leader Bill Raggio, R-Reno, and Assembly Ways and Means Chair Morse Arberry, D-Las Vegas, made it clear lawmakers can make the cuts for them if necessary.
“I would think the governor made an appropriate request,” said Raggio. “If people don’t come forward with their priorities for cuts, we’ll have to do it otherwise.”
Arberry was more direct: “If they don’t want to play, then they’re leaving it up to us to make the decisions.”
He said the governor offered the university system, courts and other agencies the opportunity to set the priorities themselves, but if they don’t do it, the legislature will.
“And they might not like our cuts,” he said.
Maupin appeared to defend their position before a Ways and Means/Senate Finance joint subcommittee Thursday saying funding specialty courts is a legislative priority and that judicial salaries, which would increase 30 percent if the recommendations are followed, are completely under the control of the Legislature. He said the court “cannot possibly prioritize district court judges salaries with the operation of the Supreme Court.” He said the same was true of the specialty courts and argued both those areas should be exempt from the budget cuts.
“Think of this as a negotiation,” said Beers. “And you’re stonewalling.”
He pointed out that lawmakers don’t need judicial approval to make the cuts.
Maupin objected to the word “stonewalling,” saying: “That would not be our understanding.”
In addition to the cuts, he said the courts have increased assessment revenues more than $2.5 million to cut general fund, identified $1.6 million in one-time assessment revenue they will collect from Las Vegas justice courts and eliminated more than $600,000 in other funding requests.
But he said he would meet with staff and continue to try reach an acceptable compromise.
Rogers told the governor in his letter that he can’t in good faith recommend any cuts from the requested budget even though enrollments are not growing nearly as fast as they have over the past decade.
He said cutting as deep as the governor has requested would cost UNR and UNLV up to 225 faculty, forcing elimination of more than 700 class sections. Throughout the community college system, he said there would be reductions in services and support for students.
Rogers asked Gibbons to put higher education in the same category as public schools – protected from the cuts. To cut the system, he said, would set off a chain of events that would leave “a shadow and a shambles of the system of higher education.”
• Contact reporter Geoff Dornan at firstname.lastname@example.org or 687-8750.