Gibbons: Reform school system, close prison
The veneer of cooperation between Gov. Jim Gibbons and legislative leadership suffered some damage Monday night as Gibbons blamed lawmakers for creating the budget crisis.
He said his proposed budget “imposed no new taxes and allowed no expansion of state government.”
“The Nevada Legislature disregarded my solution. They raised taxes $1 billion and they made government bigger. They made the wrong call.
“I planned responsibly. They gambled on new taxes and we all lost.”
Now, he said, the state is facing a $1 billion shortfall.
During his state of the state address on the budget crisis, Gibbons confirmed his plan includes laying off “several hundred state workers.”
“We are doing everything possible to absorb people into other positions … but some layoffs are inevitable.”
Gibbons said he is also shutting down Nevada State Prison in Carson City, saying “It has outlived its usefulness. It is no longer safe and its operating costs are far too high.”
He said health care programs must also be cut back but promised that “I will protect programs that protect our youngest and most vulnerable citizens.”
Gibbons said he will call lawmakers into special session Feb. 23 and urged them to give his education reform package serious consideration.
Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford, D-Las Vegas, said he agrees with the governor that now is not the time for higher taxes.
“While many of us believe Nevada needs a broader and more stable tax structure, during this recession I will not support raising taxes,” he said in televised comments after the governor’s speech.
Horsford said, however, when the state does recover, “We must enact a broader, more stable and fair tax structure.”
But Horsford rejected the governor’s call for education reform, especially his proposal to allow vouchers for parents to take their children out of public school.
The proposal Gibbons laid out earlier in the day would provide vouchers worth 75 percent of the per pupil amount public school students are funded at, freeing up the 25 percent to be used where most needed in K-12 schools.
Horsford called the plan ill conceived and said it would be unconstitutional. Nevada’s education system requires that students statewide receive equal overall funding when state and local revenues are tallied.
Gibbons said in a press conference after the two speeches he believes the plan is constitutional because the plan requires an equal education for students.
Pointing out that education consumes 54 percent of the state’s General Fund budget, Gibbons said “we can’t solve a $1 billion hole in a $6 billion budget if half of that budget is off the table.”
His solution, he said, is to “quit throwing money at programs that haven’t worked and don’t work for our children.”
He said 142 of Nevada’s 613 public schools qualify as “the worst schools in the nation.”
In fact, those are schools listed as in need of improvement.
He said more money won’t help fix those schools and blamed unions for part of the problem: “Continuing to allow unions to dictate Nevada’s education policy doesn’t work.”
Gibbons said he won’t eliminate programs like class size reduction and all day kindergarten, just remove the mandates imposing them on districts.
“If a local school board decides a program works for their kids, they can do it.”
To save any money, however, Gibbons would have to pull a lot of the state funding for those programs back.
At one point, he said in his speech Nevada can “no longer pay for the bloated government services which were funded when Nevada’s economy was booming.”
But Gibbons rejected a question asking him if there is so much waste in government, why not cut the entire $881 million shortfall out of operating budgets.
“You would take every program and throw it out the window,” he said.
Horsford said the Gibbons plan is unacceptable. He said the right thing to do is ensure that mining and other businesses and industries pay their fair share of existing taxes and fees. The Department of Taxation has estimated the state is owed hundreds of millions in unpaid taxes. He said management contracts and services need to be cut back, some services available only four days a week, buildings and departments shut down when necessary.
Both Horsford and Gibbons called for investment in growth and economic expansion in the future. Gibbons said Nevada can become the recycling center for the nation, turning upwards of 75 percent of garbage back into useful materials and products. He also said there might well be a fee created on that industry.
In addition, he said he is in discussions with the mining industry over potentially increasing revenues to the state. He declined to give details.
He said he and lawmakers are still working together to create a plan acceptable to all before the special session, but said he thinks it will take longer than just one day to do the job.