Millennium Scholarship comments generate controversy |

Millennium Scholarship comments generate controversy

Assemblywoman Sheila Leslie, D-Reno, stirred up some controversy on Nevada Newsmakers on Thursday when she used the popular Millennium Scholarship as an example of one program that might have to be cut because of Nevada’s budget crisis.

“We need to explain to the public that the state will have a 50 percent general fund deficit,” she told the TV show audience.

“Everyone loves that program, but we are not constitutionally mandated to provide that,” she said, adding that the scholarship program could become a casualty even though it makes up a tiny part of the total budget.

Leslie, a candidate for the state Senate seat vacated by Bernice Mathews, said the comments generated some pretty strong reactions from people but that she wasn’t suggesting the popular program be eliminated.

She said it has enabled thousands of Nevada high school graduates to attend college and she used it as an example to point out that lawmakers are in a position of having to “separate the things we have to fund from the things we love to fund.”

“I don’t want to get rid of it,” she said when contacted after the show. “I want to save it.”

She added that cutting the scholarship program wouldn’t do very much to help the state’s projected

$3 billion biennial shortfall since the $25 million a year in tobacco settlement money that supports it amounts to just 1.7 percent of that shortfall.

Leslie said it’s not possible to just cut out half the state general fund budget.

“It’s obvious from all the past studies we need to broaden the tax base,” she said. “It’s also obvious we can’t cut 50 percent of the general fund.”

She said it’s time for politicians running for legislative and statewide office to face up to that fact and start talking about what they would do to balance Nevada’s budget.

Leslie said if her comments help generate some legitimate discussion of what to do about the crisis, she’ll take the heat.