Special session: Legislators may wrap up today | NevadaAppeal.com

Special session: Legislators may wrap up today

BRIAN DUGGAN and GEOFF DORNAN
Nevada Appeal Capitol Bureau
Cathleen Allison/Nevada Appeal
NEVADA APPEAL | NEVADA APPEAL

Lawmakers shut down Friday night just before 9 p.m. with a deal in sight to balance the budget and close the 26th special session of the Nevada Legislature.

Assembly Speaker Barbara Buckley, D-Las Vegas, said the late night meeting with other legislative leaders and Gov. Jim Gibbons was canceled. They will return for an early morning meeting today to finalize a compromise that will balance the state budget.

If successful, they could take the plan to the floor of the Senate and Assembly, pass it and adjourn today, well in advance of the midnight Sunday deadline set by Gibbons.

In part, the night meeting was canceled to give staff time to crunch numbers on the final pieces of the compromise.

Buckley; Assembly Minority Leader Heidi Gansert, R-Reno; Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford, D-Las Vegas; and Senate Minority Leader Bill Raggio, R-Reno, spent much of Friday behind closed doors with fiscal staff and the governor and, according to all sides, made significant progress toward resolving differences.

The compromise began at a noon meeting Friday between Gibbons and Buckley to discuss his threatened veto of statutory changes designed to qualify Nevada for as much as $175 million in Race to the Top federal education money.

It bloomed into a full negotiating session between Gibbons and legislative leadership Friday.

After two meetings, the second more than two hours long, in Buckley’s office, Horsford emerged to say the group had “made a lot of progress” and was within striking distance of a deal.

Once they receive updates on the numbers, they will wrap up the

compromise plan this morning.

Gibbons gave few details as he emerged from the afternoon meeting but did say he is backing away from the reductions to mining tax deductions he originally proposed. His original plan raised an estimated $50 million over the biennium. Lawmakers had been looking for ways to double that to $100 million.

He also opposes raising the mining claims fee to $125 a year, raising upwards of $20 million.

Gibbons, in an interview on Jon Ralston’s “Face to Face” show, said that is now “off the table” because of concerns about the constitutional, legal issues raised. The Net Proceeds of Mines tax is in the constitution, and counsel is concerned that changing the deductions could be challenged.

Gibbons said it’s not needed now because mining is saying the current tax may come in up to $62 million above what was originally projected.

He said he hasn’t decided whether to sign the legislative version of the educational Race to the Top change. He is concerned their plan doesn’t go far enough to meet federal requirements that student evaluations be used to evaluate teachers.

Gibbons said he does support the proposed increase in gaming investigation fees because that is asking those seeking a new gaming license to pay their costs.

“We’re going to say you’ve got to pay more of the cost of licensing you,” he said.

The plan is designed to raise about $4.2 million by raising the hourly investigative charge for potential licensees from $80 to about $125.

Asked about the gaming industry’s adamant opposition to higher taxes on them, Horsford said, “Well, we seem pretty adamant, too.” But he said earlier in the day it wasn’t certain more money from gaming would be necessary to balance the budget.

Gibbons and Horsford both said the GOP’s proposal to use the unclaimed property fund to guarantee payments on what amounts to a bond sale was also being evaluated. That source could generate an estimated $91 million to cut the shortfall, and Gibbons said he supports the idea.

The idea was originally proposed by Lt. Gov. Brian Krolicki, who backed a similar plan to securitize the state’s share of the tobacco settlement money.

“I think it’s a way for the state of Nevada to fund a large portion of this deficit without having to raise fees or taxes,” he said.

The biggest hold-up remains the size of the reduction to K-12 or higher education. The governor proposed 10 percent cuts, legislative Democrats 5 percent – a difference of $121 million. Assembly Republicans said they should split the difference at 7.5 percent – which would require $60.5 million in capital beyond the governor’s original proposal.

But there is apparent agreement to restore some $25 million to eliminate some of what lawmakers have dubbed the ugliest cuts to health and human services programs.