Dems OK K-12 budget at $650M more than governor’s |

Dems OK K-12 budget at $650M more than governor’s

Rejecting several major changes to the governor’s proposed education budget, legislative money committees on repeated party-line votes Tuesday opened a more than $650 million hole in the budget.

The biggest piece they refused to adopt was imposing the 5 percent pay cuts on teachers. Sandoval’s budget relied on that pay cut to save the state $127 million in Fiscal 2012 and $129.5 million in Fiscal 2013 – a total of $256.5 million.

Democrats refused that reduction after approving the governor’s recommendation that teachers begin paying 25 percent of their Public Employee Retirement Benefit premiums. When it was proposed, Sandoval’s staff argued it was fair since state workers already pay half their PERS premiums. During the biennium, the PERS decision will cost teachers $200.7 million.

Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford, D-Las Vegas, said as much as he dislikes the cut, it was a question of fairness.

“I believe the goal is to make the employee groups pay their share toward the retirement they receive,” he said. “I don’t like it. I don’t want to do it, but something has to be done.”

Ways and Means Chairwoman Debbie Smith, D-Sparks, also supported the change.

“It pains me to reduce anyone’s pay in this environment, but on a parity issue, this is one area we can compromise,” she said.

Likewise, the joint Senate Finance and Assembly Ways and Means committee rejected suspending the merit pay teachers receive for educational advanced degrees, which would have saved the state another $142.6 million.

Horsford said if lawmakers approved both the PERS change and pay cuts along with suspending merit pay, some teachers would see up to a 19 percent reduction in take-home pay.

“You can ask everyone to do a little but you can’t ask this budget be balanced on the backs of teachers,” Horsford said.

The committee also refused to plug school district bond reserve funding into the budget. The governor originally counted on that pot of money for $425 million to balance the budget. New projections – after school officials objected – lowered that total to $301.9 million. Committee members were told Tuesday that number needs to be further reduced to $232.2 million.

But lawmakers decided they can’t justify taking the money.

“It’s a fundamental violation of the trust with the voters when this was passed,” said Assemblyman David Bobzien, D-Reno. “The effects of this will be felt for years.”

The committee also rejected Sandoval’s idea of rolling several categorical funding streams including class size reduction and all-day kindergarten into a block grant program giving school districts control over which programs they fund. They followed that by restoring the $7.4 million cut by the governor’s plan to make those programs whole.

There also were a number of smaller reductions and changes that increase the gap between available revenue and the governor’s proposed budget.

Assemblyman Pat Hickey, R-Reno, said his problem with the changes to the governor’s budget is he doesn’t see a plan to cover the added costs.

“What I think we’re doing is putting the cart before the horse,” he said. “It’s very difficult to vote for a budget when we don’t know what the vehicle is to fill the hole.”

Based on added funding approved by the Economic Forum on Monday, the joint committee adopted the governor’s recommendation to restore nearly all of the basic per pupil support the proposed budget reduced. Of the $238.2 million cut by Sandoval’s original plan, the forum money will restore $223 million.

There was no objection to the decision to formally dedicate the estimated $225.3 million the room tax revenue generated by the voter-approved Initiative Petition 1 directly to the education budget. Lawmakers said that keeps the promise to voters who backed that to commit the money to K-12 education. But it doesn’t actually increase education funding since, what lawmakers intend to do is back that much General Fund money out of the K-12 budget.

“At least we’re earmarking it for education,” said Horsford.

The committee also approved the governor’s plan to put $20 million in a fund for performance pay for the state’s best teachers. But both Republicans and Democrats alike said they wish they could put more money into that program.

Smith said the first job “is to decide our priorities, decide what we want to fund.”

“Then there will certainly be a discussion about how it’s funded if at all,” she said.