Regent says tap local government revenues to help support colleges
RENO – The only way to stabilize university system funding and make up shortfalls is to tap local property-tax revenues, Regent Mark Alden said Thursday.
“We need to do more and it can’t all come from the state coffers,” he told fellow regents during a discussion of future plans at Nevada’s university and community college campuses.
“There is a need for funds to come from the local communities and I’m not saying higher taxes,” Alden said during a meeting of the Univeristy and Community College System of Nevada board.
He said he appreciates support in the form of grants, cooperative agreements and other voluntary support, but the system needs to take a share of the existing local government property tax revenues.
Other regents were skeptical, however, and said local governments already are strapped for money. They took no action on Alden’s proposal.
Alden said property taxes would help pay for community colleges, in particular. He said he is thinking of a statewide levy deducted from existing taxes.
The campuses can’t keep coming to the Legislature asking for more money every session, he said. They need legislation that guarantees a funding source much like the property and sales-tax base that pays for public school grades kindergarten-12.
While K-12 schools have the Nevada Plan that provides them funding each year, “we are discretionary,” Alden said. He said he envisions legislation that sets up a similar formula for higher education that doesn’t depend on lawmakers’ generosity each session.
But he said an annual $24 million shortfall should come from the revenues already collected by Nevada’s county and municipal governments.
“Monies they have now will go back to the community colleges,” he said. “Property taxes.”
He admitted that the plan takes money from local governments that are already strapped for cash to meet growing needs of their own. He said colleges in the East, in particular, pay for their community colleges with property taxes.
He also said he has been “assured” by Gov. Kenny Guinn that his ideas will be considered by his task force reviewing the operation of state government.
Other regents questioned how Alden’s proposal would work.
Regent Tom Kirkpatrick, of Las Vegas, said where communities pay for colleges with property taxes, “the ownership of those colleges is in those communities, not with the state.”
“We don’t have the same thing in Nevada,” he said.
Regent Steve Sisolak, a frequent ally of Alden’s in board debates, said he wasn’t getting involved with the plan.
The proposal comes just a couple of days after acting Chancellor Tom Anderes told a legislative committee and regents that students will have to bear a greater share of campus budgets in the future.
Anderes said costs are rising, but lawmakers and the governor have made it clear the university system isn’t going to get a larger share of the budget.
There are only a few ways to make that shortfall up and the biggest source of revenue is students who will be asked to pay more per credit and higher fees throughout, Alden said.
Alden said his proposal would lift some of that burden off students and put it on the communities which receive the benefits of the schools.