Special Session: Prison to stay open; workers to get raises
The Nevada Legislature managed Friday to cut an additional $275 million out of the state budget without taking back employee raises, grabbing the tobacco settlement money or closing down Nevada State Prison in Carson City.
Although it was originally Gov. Jim Gibbons and Senate Majority Leader Bill Raggio, R-Reno, who proposed taking the teacher/state worker raises to save $134 million a year, it became clear this past week there weren’t enough votes in either house to do so. And Gibbons too recommended against it in his message calling the special session Thursday night.
The tobacco plan had the tentative backing of Gibbons but few other supporters since it would trade a $1.2 billion revenue stream over the next 17 years for a one-time cash payment as low as $600 million and, in the process, eliminate funding for Senior Rx, the Millennium scholarship program and several health programs.
Closing NSP was proposed by Director of Corrections Howard Skolnik. He defended it Thursday before the Interim Finance Committee saying if he has to cut another 4 percent, closing a major institution is his only option and NSP is the oldest, most inefficient prison he has.
That would have saved $19 million a year but lawmakers including Speaker Barbara Buckley, D-Las Vegas, said there were just too many unanswered questions about the plan.
Raggio said lawmakers and staff will find other ways to reduce corrections budgets, including delaying the opening of Phase 5 of High Desert Correctional Center which was scheduled for completion about the end of this calendar year.
Asked whether the new cuts would result in state worker layoffs, Director of Administration Andrew Clinger said not very many.
“By taking Nevada State Prison off the table, I think we’ve mitigated most of the impact (layoffs),” he said.
Closing the prison could have cost up to 170 corrections employees their jobs.
Overall, the largest amount of the total $275 million lawmakers cut from budgets taking effect July 1 will come from what Human Resources Director Mike Willden called “a thousand little cuts.” The plan takes $106 million in a 60 page list of reductions from nearly every agency in the state.
The biggest single reduction outside those operating cuts is the $50 million in general funds from the money remaining in the $170 million put into NDOT’s budget to get the next phase of Interstate 15 completed in Las Vegas. Lawmakers and the governor already took $56 million of that money, moving that portion of the project into bond money.
NDOT Director Susan Martinovich said the new $50 million reduction will “shut down our pavement preservation projects except those funded with federal money.” She said that means potholes on the Interstate’s will get patched but that, for the next year or so, damage to other state highways and roads won’t. But another piece approved Friday feeds $20 million in bond money back into those programs so the net reduction drops to about $30 million for NDOT.
The next biggest piece is $47.9 million from the textbooks, instructional supplies and hardware money. The plan takes half of the total in that account. Washoe Superintendent Paul Dugan, the incoming head of the state association of superintendents, said that suggestion came from them because they didn’t want to see teacher pay raises, remediation funding and other programs damaged.
Dugan said the promise is that full funding would be restored in the next budget and if the economy gets better this coming fiscal year, some of that money would come back automatically in this biennium.
After that, the biggest piece is draining the remaining $27.3 million in the Trust for Public Health. Tobacco money created that trust during the past eight years. Grants are made from the interest it earns and fiscal staff advised the Senate taking the money will dramatically reduce the interest available for public health program grants for a number of years since the trust only grows by about $4 million a year.
When added to the $913 million in reductions already taken, the $275 million brings the total budget reductions this biennium come to $1.2 billion.
• Contact reporter Geoff Dornan at firstname.lastname@example.org or 687-8750.