Hettrick not moving on demands for budget cuts
Assembly Minority Leader Lynn Hettrick says Gov. Kenny Guinn can get the state’s budget closer to a range he can support with cuts such as delaying restoration of the state’s rainy day fund and a commitment to fully fund the Public Employee Retirement System.
Hettrick, R-Gardnerville, and others have also called for cuts in the university system, health and welfare programs.
Hettrick was to discuss details of his proposed budget cuts with his caucus Tuesday evening but said he planned no public announcement until after the special session starts this morning.
After convening today, plans were to organize the special session much like its predecessor last week, with the Senate meeting as a committee of the whole and the Assembly forming a select committee of about half its total membership to consider a tax plan.
Majority Leader Barbara Buckley, D-Las Vegas, said the Assembly bill would look similar to one which nearly achieved two-thirds support last week. She said it includes both a payroll tax designed to offset the business license tax and a franchise tax assessing businesses on a tiered system according to their gross receipts. Senators were preparing to introduce a similar measure.
Neither Guinn nor Assembly Speaker Richard Perkins, D-Henderson, have shown any interest so far in reopening the budget. Guinn last week referred to the tactic as blackmail, while Perkins said Monday opening the budget could jeopardize a number of vital programs in both urban and rural parts of the state.
But Hettrick repeated that he and a core group of Republicans seeking to hold down the size of any tax increase won’t go higher than the $700 million Guinn originally said was necessary to maintain existing state services.
He said he believes the governor will have to give in.
“I think this thing is going to get resolved,” he said. “I’m not sure it’ll get resolved by July 1st.”
While Perkins said he still hasn’t had intensive meetings on the subject of taxes, Senate Majority Leader Bill Raggio, R-Reno, was reported talking with several Republican members of the Assembly to seek common ground.
Guinn proposed a total $994 million increase over the two-year budget. Legislative money committees, including Ways and Means on which Hettrick sits, trimmed that to $860 million.
Hettrick on Tuesday said that means they have to cut another $160 million out of the budget.
“It’s not a tax cut,” he said. “It’s a reduction of the enhancement. I believe you’ll get enough votes around $700 million to get it out.”
His targets include the decision to put $30 million into rebuilding the state’s emergency rainy day fund, which was drained this past year to balance the budget.
“It doesn’t have to be done now,” he said. “Staff will argue that’s poor practice and I won’t argue that. But it’s not necessary now.”
Hettrick wants to roll back the increase in what the state contributes state worker retirement accounts. The $26 million was included to keep the state on track toward fully funding the pension system.
“All we’d be doing is slow down the date to fully fund,” he said.
But he and others who have been blocking passage of a tax package say there are a number of other areas where the budget could and should be cut back.
Hettrick and Assemblyman Bob Beers, R-Las Vegas, both opposed funding for the dental school and Nevada State College at Henderson during hearings on the budget. Cutting the dental school would save $20 million over the biennium. Henderson college would save $6 million.
Beers has also suggested cutting the $5 million given to UNR to buy the old Manogue High School.
Hettrick also expressed concern about decisions made in the budget which he says will cost the state down the road. He said a major example is the decision to have the general fund guarantee an estimated $89 million in estate tax revenue to the university system. With the estate tax being phased out at the federal level, that means the state will have to pick up the obligations now covered by that funding.
He said there are more than $200 million in one-shot expenditures in the budget — a good share of which will have to be picked up by the general fund in two years.
“It’s in the budget going to the base,” he said.
To pass a tax package, supporters of the budget must win two-thirds of the Assembly — 28 of 42 — and 14 of 21 senators.