Gov. Guinn proposes 6 percent raises for state workers | NevadaAppeal.com

Gov. Guinn proposes 6 percent raises for state workers

Gov. Kenny Guinn’s proposed budget for the coming two years will include a total of 6 percent in raises for state workers and teachers.

Cost of living raises of 2 percent the first year and 4 percent the second would cost a total of $256.2 million over the biennium. But Guinn said they are necessary to match inflation and keep good employees in state government and the schools.

That and a $25 million appropriation in the second half of FY 2009 to begin funding all-day kindergarten are highlights of the governor’s proposals for the executive budget he will leave to his successor in January.

The kindergarten plan is likely to draw close scrutiny in the Legislature because it effectively commits the state to $100 million or more in new spending for the 2009-2011 budget cycle. But Democrat Dina Titus has said she supports the concept and Republican Jim Gibbons has indicated he could support it as well if studies show the concept as effective in improving student achievement as supporters claim.

Total state agency requests were about $1 billion over the statutory spending cap when originally submitted in September. But reduced caseload projections in Health and Human Services, cuts in the university system’s requests because student numbers have declined and elimination or reduction of numerous requests by the budget office helped put the proposed executive budget back in the black. In addition, public school populations are growing at a slower rate than in recent budget cycles, further easing the demand for new money.

Combined, those trends enabled Guinn to add in a few things he believes are vital – most of which, he said, he has discussed with the two candidates vying to replace him.

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Those include $12 million for Opportunity Village in Las Vegas and its counterparts in the north, Washoe ARC and High Sierra Industries, to care for those with mental health problems and other disabilities. Guinn said not funding those organizations, which raise millions in other funding on their own, would result in those clients being forced onto the state’s system at a much higher cost.

The Nevada Cancer Institute and Alzheimer’s Institute are in the budget for $10 million apiece while the Center for Excellence for Chronic Fatigue Syndrome would get $2 million.

Those all fit within the proposed executive budget and do not tap the $322 million budget experts predict Nevada’s treasury will collect over and above the statutory spending cap. That money can only be used in four ways: Roads and highway construction, new or expanded buildings, the rainy day emergency fund or taxpayer rebates.

Guinn said Monday he wants $170 million to expand Interstate 15 in Las Vegas from the Spaghetti Bowl to Craig. He said it would be the state’s first design-build highway project and could go to bid as early as March.

Another $110 million would begin construction of buildings to house the university system’s Health Services Center project. To get the money, he said, the campus fundraisers will have to generate about $33 million in matching funds.

Higher education will also get $10 million for a unified computer system to handle both business and academic functions system wide.

And there is another $10 million one-shot budget item to purchase modular housing to provide space for just under 400 inmates in the Nevada prison system to relieve serious overcrowding in both the male and female prisons.

Another large chunk of the revenue over the cap will be put in the rainy day emergency fund – $62.5 million according to Guinn. And his plan includes about $46 million to replenish all the other emergency and claims funds the state relies on to pay for everything from wildland fires to legal judgments against the state.

Guinn’s proposals are not the final word on the proposed executive budget. That is the responsibility of the incoming governor who will be chosen by Nevada’s voters today.

• Contact reporter Geoff Dornan at gdornan@nevadaappeal.com or 687-8750.