Treasurer offers lawmakers options to fix Millennium Scholarship
Treasurer Kate Marshall has sent a letter to the Nevada Legislature laying out options for the Interim Finance Committee to fix the Millennium Scholarship’s financial woes.
The scholarship fund ran into trouble after lawmakers during the 2009 regular and 2010 special sessions used more than $30 million in revenue originally pledged to the scholarship program to help balance the state budget.
“That brought it down to the wire,” Marshall said Tuesday.
To ensure there was enough funding to make it through this school year, Marshall said she was asked to request $4 million over the biennium from the College Savings Board. But that board voted 3-2 not to do that.
“Their view was we’re not responsible for the Millennium; we’re responsible for the Prepaid (College Tuition program),” Marshall said.
Instead, the board voted to provide the $200,000 necessary to support the program until the 2011 Legislature convenes.
But, in April, the other shoe dropped. For the first time ever, the tobacco settlement payment came in short of what was projected, creating a $4.2 million gap.
Marshall said Tuesday her office is getting numerous calls from parents worried the funding for their college student children won’t come through. In addition, lawmakers have made what amounts to accusations that the shortfall is Marshall’s fault. Assembly Minority Leader Heidi Gansert, R-Reno, said she feels Marshall promised the scholarship would be solvent through fiscal 2013.
“Everybody wringing their hands and running around like the sky is falling is ridiculous,” Marshall said. “People need to know the Legislature will have the opportunity to make the Millennium whole through the end of this year.”
She said she has options for lawmakers to consider.
First, she said, lawmakers could transfer an additional and unexpected $10 million from the Unclaimed Property Division to the Millennium fund, covering the scholarship’s bills well into the next biennium. She said that is what she will propose to the next IFC meeting.
Second, she said, lawmakers could decide not to take the $5 million this coming year out of the fund – the final piece of the budget-balancing moves they made during the 2009 session.
To help cover the state’s budget shortfall, lawmakers took back the $7.6 million the Millennium fund was to get in unclaimed property money not only for last year but this year and next year as well – a total of $22.8 million. In addition, they took
$5 million from the fund’s reserves and are scheduled to take the final $5 million piece next year.
Altogether, that comes to $32.8 million from the Millennium Scholarship program’s funding.