Special session: Nevada lawmakers push to seal budget deal | NevadaAppeal.com

Special session: Nevada lawmakers push to seal budget deal

SANDRA CHEREB
Associated Press Writer

CARSON CITY (AP) – Nevada lawmakers pushed Sunday to seal a deal closing a $900 million budget hole and bring the special legislative session to a close.

A tentative pact was reached late Saturday between Republican and Democratic leaders and Gov. Jim Gibbons following marathon negotiating sessions. Lynn Hettrick, Gibbons’ deputy chief of staff, said Sunday minor hang-ups were still being worked out on increased fees being sought from the mining and financial industries.

But cuts to public schools and Nevada’s university and community college system were reduced to about 7 percent from the 10 percent the governor originally proposed. Dan Klaich, chancellor of the Nevada System of Higher Education, said the cuts will cost the state’s universities and colleges $50 million over the next 18 months. But he was relieved.

“We’re so much better on Sunday morning than we were on Tuesday morning” when the special session began, Klaich said. “If people walk away from this session and think the bullet was dodged, they’re very much mistaken.”

College presidents and the board of regents will decide how campuses will implement the reductions.

Legislators approved a $6.9 billion, two-year budget in June. But Nevada’s economy later imploded, as the recession eroded sales and casino taxes that make up the bulk of the state’s general fund. Gibbons called the special session to address the state’s fiscal crisis.

The budget bill was still being drafted Sunday afternoon, and votes by the Senate and Assembly were expected later in the night.

Lawmakers raided dozens of agency reserve accounts for a $200 million infusion into the general fund. More fees were being sought from the mining and financial industries.

The 140-year-old Nevada State Prison, targeted for closure by the governor to save an estimated $13 million, was spared, saving 136 jobs in the state’s capital city.

Legislators also approved a bill implementing a four-day, 10-hour work week for most state agencies, and extended the same authority to local governments if they determine it would save them money. But further salary cuts for state workers, who took a 4.6 percent pay cut in the 2009 legislative session through monthly eight-hour furloughs, escaped further reductions.

Legislators also approved bills giving the state, local governments and school districts more flexibility to manage their budgets.

AB4 allows school districts to increase first- and second-grade class sizes by two students, for a maximum of 18 per teacher. Third-grade classes can add three students, for a ratio of 21 students per teacher. The measure requires any money saved to be used to minimize budget cut effects on class sizes in other grades.

AB5 provides a temporary waiver to minimum textbook spending requirements for all public schools for the rest of the biennium. Both measures expire Jun 30, 2011.