Republican lawmakers agree some cuts too deep
Republican lawmakers were relatively quiet through the first round of budget hearings even though they oppose some of Gov. Jim Gibbons’ proposed cuts.
Those interviewed for this story said they want to listen to all the testimony and decide what can be cut before deciding how to fill the gap between need and revenue.
“You’re not going to hear me making a lot of statements or criticisms until we go through the budgets,” said Senate Minority Leader Bill Raggio of Reno after the five days of overview hearings.
“I’m going to work with everybody.”
“Our caucus’s position is to wait and see and listen to all the testimony,” said Sen.
Randolph Townsend of Reno.
Assemblyman Pete Goicoechea of Eureka was the most direct when asked whether taxes would have to be increased.
“We can’t make enough cuts to fill the hole and we can’t raise enough taxes to fill the hole,” he said. “It’s got to be reality.”
He wasn’t alone. Assemblyman Joe Hardy of Boulder City made a similar comment as did Assemblyman James Settelmeyer of Gardnerville, who said: “We can’t cut our way to a solution and we can’t tax our way to a solution.”
Minority Leader Heidi Gansert of Reno said she is hopeful the economic crisis has opened the door to some changes in how government works.
“We’ve finally gotten to the point where we’re looking to reform state government, give taxpayers more bang for their buck,” she said.
She and Assemblyman Hardy both said that may happen because the crisis has, as she put it, “created somewhat of a zero-based budget environment.”
“We’re going through every single agency and every single program and saying do we need it,” Hardy said.
He was joined by Assemblyman Tom Grady of Yerington who said: “We have to do all the cuts possible before considering new revenue enhancements.”
When asked which cuts went too far, Townsend and several others interviewed pointed to the 36 percent reduction in university funding.
“Guys who’ve been around a long time like Bill (Raggio) and I have deep concerns about higher education,” said Townsend.
But he said part of the solution is change within higher education.
“It can’t be business as usual. We don’t have the money. They have to look at what is the purpose of the university, what does the public want from the university and what focus can we put on it to give our students marketable skills,” he said. “They can’t just ask for more money.”
Sen. Warren Hardy of Las Vegas said other lawmakers need to remember the difficult task the governor had because of the recession and falling revenues: “It’s a waste of
time to continue pounding the governor.”
But he said there will be major changes in the proposed budget.
“Obviously there are things in there that are unreasonable. You can’t cut UNR and UNLV 50 percent.”
“Everyone understands what dire straits higher education is in,” said Assemblyman Hardy. “We can’t allow the seeds to be thrown out, the seeds being children and the education process.”
“We can’t cut the university system by 36 percent, but they need to examine how they operate,” said Gansert.
Sen. Dean Rhoads, of Elko, was joined by several others in his concern some of the proposed cuts will disproportionately hurt rural Nevada. Goicoechea and Grady expressed concern about cuts to rural services including closing rural mental health clinics, cutting Medicaid reimbursements to hospitals another 5 percent and taking the Indigent Accident Fund money away from counties.
Townsend joined them, saying in many cases the state is the only provider of human services in rural Nevada.
“They don’t have an ability to manage their own affairs because of the lack of revenue out there,” he said.
He said it’s the Legislature’s job to find ways to protect those services.
“I think the public understands the role of government is to help people who can’t help themselves.”
On the subject of the governor’s proposed 6 percent state salary cuts and reduced support for health benefits, Assembly members indicated some support for state workers.
“I don’t think our employees can take both,” said Grady, whose district includes a number of state workers in eastern Carson City and Lyon County.
“I have a hard time going back and reducing benefits a person signed on for,” said Goicoechea.
However, he said he supports changing the rules for new hires.
Assemblyman Hardy, like Goicoechea, questioned whether the state can take away benefits from existing workers: “I don’t think we can renege on a contract with
Gansert also questioned whether the state can or should change the benefits plan for
“I don’t approve of the 6 percent pay cut for state employees,” said Settelmeyer.
“There are other choices. But we do need to change future benefits and get them to a defined contribution instead of defined benefit.”
Asked about the pay cuts, Rhoads made it clear he doesn’t like the idea but said: “It’s probably better to take a reduction than lay people off.”
Asked about the federal stimulus package, Rhoads said it “just postpones the execution, that’s all it does,” he said.
Settelmeyer said one of the things he wants to change is Nevada’s prevailing wage law, which requires contractors to pay a higher rate for workers on state and local government construction projects than they can often pay on private jobs.
Settelmeyer said the difference can add 20-30 percent to a project’s total cost.
He and several others also said the Legislature needs to review tax abatements “and if they’re not doing what they were intended to, take them away.”
Gansert said the GOP intends to work with the Democrats every step of the way to craft solutions that serve Nevadans. But she said making government more efficient
and eliminating waste come first.
– Contact reporter Geoff Dornan at firstname.lastname@example.org or 687-8750.