Nevadans argue against culture cuts
Associated Press Writer
Nevada could turn into a cultural “wasteland” if Gov. Jim Gibbons’ proposed cuts for various cultural affairs programs are approved, lawmakers were told Tuesday.
The state Department of Cultural Affairs faces steep budget cuts and may have to decrease its staff by 40 percent, critics of the reductions said during a Senate-Assembly budget subcommittee hearing.
“I’m a second-generation native Nevadan, and this is one of the saddest mornings I’ve experienced in my life,” said Jill Berryman, executive director of Sierra Arts. “If these budget cuts go through … we buy into the fact that most of the world thinks that we are a cultural wasteland. And we’ll just prove it to them.”
The proposed cuts for the agency are well above the 14 percent reduction originally recommended by the governor, and Sen. Dean Rhoads, R-Tuscarora, asked why that happened.
“The situation economically has continued to deteriorate,” said Patrick Cates, the agency’s deputy director. “In the initial agency request, the cut was much smaller, but as the forecast deteriorated, the targets got larger.”
Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford, D-North Las Vegas, questioned the rationale of spending $45,000 per person to “buy out” more than 30 laid-off employees when the department hopes to restore those positions later.
Assemblyman Pete Goicoechea, R-Eureka, questioned why the East Ely Railroad Depot Museum, which helps to draw about 25,000 visitors to Ely each year, would be closed when other museums will stay open four days per week. He said that if the museum retained one paid curator, it could remain open with the help of committed volunteers.
“The railroad guys that I talk to, they tell me that the big Ely one is probably the most complete of all the railroad museums,” said Assemblyman Moises Denis, D-Las Vegas. “Why is it that we are not charging fees here?”
Peter Barton, administrator for the Division of Museums and History, said that the museum had issues providing access to disabled visitors in the past, so it did not charge entrance fees.
Also under the proposed budget, the state’s site stewardship program, in which hundreds of volunteers monitor sensitive archaeological sites and collect data, would be eliminated.
“We have some most tremendous archaeological and paleontological resources in this state, that put other states to shame,” said Assemblyman Harry Mortenson, D-Las Vegas, arguing to keep the program open. “Once they’re gone, they’re gone.”
Cates said that when funds become available, keeping the East Ely museum open and restoring staff positions would be the main priorities.
“This is a department where people love their work,” state Cultural Affairs Director Mike Fischer said. “For them, it’s not a job, it’s a passion.”