Special session: GOP presents plan with compromises and revenues
The Republican minority rolled out a budget plan Thursday evening that includes not only compromises on cuts but potential revenue increases as well.
They offered to meet Democrats half way on protecting K-12 and higher education from 10 percent general fund reductions recommended by Gov. Jim Gibbons. Democrats had called to chop that to 5 percent, which would cost $121.2 million. The GOP’s 7.5 percent proposal would reduce that to just over $60 million.
Minority Leader Heidi Gansert, R-Reno, said the GOP caucus also agreed to restore some $25 million in “ugly cuts” to health and human services programs.
They agreed with Democrats to support keeping the Nevada State Prison open, which will add $12.4 million to the money that must be generated to balance the budget. They also will back protecting existing corrections employees from losing differential pay and restoring $1 million in funding to prevent elimination of the Nevada Equal Rights Commission.
Gansert also said her caucus supports using $25 million from Clark County School District’s capital projects fund to reduce the number of teacher layoffs.
That prompted a complaint from Assemblywoman Debbie Smith, D-Sparks, who said those negotiations were supposed to be confidential at this point because the school board hasn’t approved the concept.
One revenue hike they included in the plan is to increase the hourly investigative fee charged by Gaming Control officials investigating new license applicants. Raising it from $80 an hour to about $120 an hour would restore the $4.2 million in gaming’s 10 percent budget cut and prevent weakening of the regulatory agency.
In addition, the caucus signed off on a plan to get at least $62 million more from the mining industry.
Gansert said the GOP was concerned about deep cuts to education and critical health and human services programs.
“We don’t want to raise significant amounts of new revenues, fees and taxes when so many households are hurting and the economy is sluggish,” said Gansert.
She said the issue was how to support those critical programs like education and services to the medically fragile and seniors without taking substantial funds out of the economy.
Their big solution, Gansert said, is “an innovative idea” – borrowing against the unclaimed property fund to generate an estimated $91 million. The plan would be to pledge up to $15 million a year from that fund, which has been a steady source of money for several decades, to get a lump sum payment this biennium – similar to selling bonds.
Gansert said the fund “has been growing over the years,” and that Republicans believe it can safely generate the annual payments.
Assembly Speaker Barbara Buckley, D-Las Vegas, said she was “very pleased to see that the Assembly Republicans have agreed to a number of suggestions we made to them.” She said the unclaimed property plan would have to be thoroughly evaluated and discussed but that it was worth discussing.
She said Treasurer Kate Marshall described it as “a bad option, but perhaps the best of bad options.”
Buckley said Democrats are in negotiations with mining on a plan to generate even more from mining than the GOP proposal – about $100 million – which could further reduce education cuts to the 5 percent level sought by Democrats.
“Basically, the mining industry is going to agree to pay more and the state of Nevada will gratefully accept it,” she said.