Lawmakers work to complete state budget | NevadaAppeal.com

Lawmakers work to complete state budget

AMANDA FEHD
Associated Press Writer
Nevada Assemblyman Morse Arberry, D-Las Vegas, works in the Ways and Means Committee on Friday, May 4, 2007, at the Legislature in Carson City, Nev. Senate and Assembly budget committees are working to iron out their differences as they begin finalizing a nearly $7 billion budget for the coming two fiscal years. (AP Photo/Nevada Appeal, Cathleen Allison) **MAGS OUT, NO SALES **
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With a deadline to complete work a little over four weeks away, Senate and Assembly budget committees met Friday to start resolving their differences – but didn’t get very far.

Assembly Ways and Means and Senate Finance members must resolve differences and complete work on a nearly $7 billion budget so that lawmakers can adjourn by June 4. If they don’t get their work done by then, the legislators face the prospect of a special session.

Clashing spending plans discussed Friday included funding to fight federal efforts to store nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain. The Assembly approved the original amount, $1.9 million a year, while the Senate proposed to cut that by about $250,000 a year as requested by Gov. Jim Gibbons.

Senate Finance Chairman Bill Raggio said his committee will go back and consider a reduced cut of $136,000 now being recommended by the governor.

Other topics covered by the committees on Friday included the state Department of Cultural Affairs budget. The panels delayed any action on most of the items in that budget.

Special appropriations to programs for the homeless, autism research, health care and education will be under tight scrutiny as lawmakers look for ways to slice at least $110 million from original budget estimates due to a projected revenue shortfall from sales taxes.

Less than a tenth of the state budget for the next two fiscal years has been approved by the full budget panels in the Republican-controlled Senate and the Democratic-controlled Assembly. However, budget subcommittees have completed about 70 percent of their work.

Among the big obstacles still facing the money committees is a disagreement over education funding.

Assembly Democrats on Thursday voted to cut $25.7 million more from university budgets during a meeting of a joint subcommittee covering education. The cuts came on top of $11 million in reductions ordered by the governor.

Raggio complained that the lawmakers “gutted” the higher education budget, adding that he believes Democrats want to hurt higher education in order to increase K-12 funding.

Assembly Ways and Means Chairman Morse Arberry, D-Las Vegas, said higher education has been treated well in past sessions while K-12 schools get “the short end of the stick.”

Other education funding disputes include a battle over full-day kindergarten. The plan, which would cost $100 million a year, is being pushed by Assembly Speaker Barbara Buckley, D-Las Vegas.