Party line vote opens another hole in budget
Democrats Saturday rejected the governor’s plan to use Washoe and Clark county property tax money to fund the university system.
The decision puts a $121 million hole in the system’s budget. The $120 million hole is on top of the more than $650 million lawmakers added to the K-12 public school budgets.
“I, for the life of me, cannot understand why this is just Washoe and Clark,” said Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford, D-Las Vegas.
Horsford said if the property tax money is moved to the university system, it should be from all counties, not just the two where the university campuses are located. He said those are statewide institutions and that students from across the state benefit from the campuses.
Gov. Brian Sandoval’s staff said the reason was that those two counties receive direct economic benefit from having UNR and UNLV located there.
Sen. Sheila Leslie, D-Reno, said she agrees wit Horsford.
“If it’s shared sacrifice, why is it only the two counties?” she asked.
Assemblyman Paul Aizley, D-Las Vegas, said the community colleges also should benefit form property tax revenues if the state adopts that funding plan.
“Is it also saying Great Basin College is of no benefit to Elko County or that Western Nevada College is no benefit here in Carson City?”
Taking the same pieces of property tax from the other 15 counties would have added more than $20 million to the total sweep, but lawmakers decided instead to not take the money from any of the counties.
“The problem I have is that some of the counties I represent are close to going bankrupt,” said Sen. Dean Rhoads, R-Tuscarora.
He was joined by Assemblyman Tom Grady, R-Yerington, who said the smaller counties can’t afford the services and mandates the governor’s budget is forcing on them, let alone the loss of property tax money.
Horsford said the two largest counties are suffering financially too. He said his district is facing library and recreation center closures and reduced funding for public safety.
“I’m open to a discussion about local government sharing in the cost of higher education,” said Horsford. “Let’s have that discussion. They do that in other states.”
But he said he was adamantly opposed to taking the funding from just Clark and Washoe counties.
Assemblyman Marcus Conklin, D-Las Vegas, said the property tax plan “is a stop gap measure because we haven’t solved our other problems.”
Conklin said the problem is that this state has been unwilling to properly fund government services.
“We’re cheap,” he said. “People don’t come to places that are cheap. They come to places of value. This budget is cheap and we need to decide to provide value.”
Leslie made the motion to reject the governor’s recommendation and leave the 9 cents worth of property tax money with Clark and Washoe counties instead of transferring it to the university system. Democrats approved the motion on a party line vote.