Gibbons calls for autonomous higher education | NevadaAppeal.com

Gibbons calls for autonomous higher education

Stephanie Carroll
Nevada Appeal News Service

FALLON – Gov. Jim Gibbons spoke at Western Nevada College Fallon on Tuesday, arguing for the higher education system in Nevada to reorganize its finances and take control of its revenue.

Gibbons said the $900 million deficit, which led to

6.9 percent cuts to education, is nothing compared to the hole Nevada will face in January, an anticipated $3.5 billion, or half the budget.

“If you think $900 million is a big number to deal with, be prepared for January 2011,” Gibbons said. “They’re going to have to find 50 percent of the budget … It’s going to be the hardest challenge this state has ever faced.”

He said there are only four areas the state can draw from to fill the void: health and human services, public safety, K-12 education and higher education. Gibbons said K-12 and higher education account for 54 percent of the budget, and he said it would be impossible to save that amount without preventing someone from getting a necessary surgery or releasing criminals from prisons.

Higher education is the only one of the four with the ability to generate its own revenue through tuition, Gibbons said.

Gibbons added colleges should have the autonomy and authority to control their own revenue so schools can decide to raise tuition in response to cuts rather than the state.

Gibbons said state control enforces regulations on employees and costs schools 30 percent more in construction by requiring public works involvement.

“So when there is that reduction … I want you to have the flexibility to fill that gap,” Gibbons said. “You will control the tuition. You will control the amount … You’re not dependent on the legislature or recommendation of the governor.”

Attendees had the opportunity to ask questions and make comments, many of which were geared toward alternatives and solutions for the anticipated $3.4 billion shortfall.

A math teacher from the college asked how the legislature planned to account for $3.4 billion without raising taxes. The teacher said he would be willing to pay more taxes rather than lose all government services.

Gibbons said doubling the taxes would only allow for a small portion of the services, and there are many who can’t afford more taxes.

Another person said cutting some services could help the private sector. Gibbons noted it was important to consider whether taxpayers want to pay for state services that are offered by private individuals.

“Should you be able to open a yellow book and find a veterinarian that has to compete with a state-paid veterinarian?” Gibbons said. “That is the debate that has to go on. That is the debate that will go on for the next

10 months.”

Several individuals brought up a variety of economic solutions from using Yucca Mountain to starting a state lottery and prohibiting illegal immigrants. Gibbons explained that Yucca Mountain’s economic value will not withstand time, and a state lottery has to be voted on by the people. Gibbons said Nevada is federally mandated to provide health care and education to all regardless of resident status, but he added a new counterfeit-proof drivers license is coming soon to deal with this issue.

A few people were concerned with the governor’s overall plan for Nevada, which is to encourage the growth of renewable energy to eventually be sold to other states, a growth Gibbons said would take 20 years. A student said in less than 10 years her own education will be hurt and her son’s might be destroyed.

Gibbons stressed that handling the state budget during this recession will be difficult, and everyone will feel some pain, but it’s important that the state works together to rise above it in the end.

“I want us all to realize we’re in this together,” Gibbons said. “It’s everybody together.”