Rocha warns budget cuts will destroy vital state services
Associated Press Writer
Veteran Nevada state Archivist Guy Rocha has announced his retirement plans, saying he doesn’t want to oversee the possible gutting of his agency because of the state’s budget crunch.
Rocha, 57, plans to retire Feb. 2 ” exactly 28 years to the day he assumed his position. When he began the job in 1981, he was the youngest state archivist in the nation. Now, only the archivists of New Hampshire and Maryland have served longer.
During his tenure, Rocha earned a reputation as the state’s “myth buster” by making it his mission to debunk commonly held but erroneous beliefs about the Silver State.
Among others, he debunked myths that some Hoover Dam construction workers are buried in the concrete, that Butch Cassidy robbed a Winnemucca bank in 1900 and that the Goldfield Hotel operated the first electric elevator west of the Mississippi.
Now, Rocha is turning his attention to the state’s financial crisis and proposed budget cuts of as much as 34 percent over the two-year fiscal period beginning July 1.
Rocha warns such cuts would devastate his agency and other state departments, and leave the public without many vital programs and facilities.
“I know I could stay longer but is it worth it?” he asked. “I don’t want to see 28 years of work essentially undone in the next biennium. We could barely keep the doors open under the worst-case scenario.”
He also notes his departure could spare one or two employees their jobs.
Rocha said past budget cuts and the prospect of even more severe cuts are causing a “brain drain” of hundreds of dedicated state employees.
“If they can find other jobs or retire, they’re leaving,” Rocha said. “They’re essentially saying this environment is impossible. The institutional memory represented by these people is going out the door.”
He criticized the state’s tax structure, saying it relies too much on tourist-generated revenues and leads to wild swings in the state’s financial health.
He urged the 2009 Legislature to put the state on solid financial footing by broadening the tax structure and asking everyone to shoulder the burden.
“We need a 21st century Nevada and it can’t rely on tourism to keep driving the engine,” he said. “Tourism will no longer be able to sustain state government unless people are satisfied with a government so small it can’t do very much at all.”
With budget cuts of up to 34 percent, Rocha warned, state programs will have to be drastically cut and hundreds of state employees will have to be laid off.
But he acknowledged it will be difficult to raise taxes because of a vocal minority of “anti-government ideologues” who are trying to dismantle government.
“We’re a fiscally conservative state, but there are people not satisfied with that,” Rocha said. “At a certain point, no new taxes means an implosion. You have gone from streamlining to gutting. I think that’s the critical threshold where we’re at now.”
Rocha said he’s unsure of his future plans and keeping his options open. But he plans to continue speaking out against proposals that he thinks would threaten the state in which he grew up.
“I care for this state deeply,” he said. “I find it disturbing this state that has essentially been my life is, in my opinion, on the brink of disaster. You can’t cut 34 percent or more without devastating state government.”