Nevada chancellor warns against budget cuts, suggests local help
Associated Press Writer
The head of Nevada’s higher education system warned Friday that 8 percent budget cuts being considered by Gov. Jim Gibbons would cause “permanent and irreparable damage” to the state’s universities and colleges.
Chancellor Jim Rogers added in a letter to Gibbons that counties and cities in which community colleges are located might be able to contribute funding for those schools, and he’ll start seeking those contributions.
Gibbons is considering 8 percent budget cuts for many government entities to help offset a tax revenue shortfall. Such cuts would carve $285 million out of a $6.8 billion, two-year state budget – and Rogers said that would include a $102 million hit for higher education.
Rogers said Gibbons has described the revenue shortfall as short-term and he wants to help the governor find a solution – but “solving a short-term problem with policies that create long-term damage is not prudent.”
The chancellor attached to his letter a lengthy report detailing the impacts of 8 percent cuts several state colleges and community colleges. He also included an updated report on the University of Nevada, Reno and a copy of a University of Nevada, Las Vegas analysis he sent Gibbons last month.
Gibbons issued a statement thanking Rogers for the report, saying he asked the chancellor to join in the effort to deal with the revenue shortfalls through “modest spending reductions.”
The higher education system “has participated in the budget reduction process several times in the past, and the system has gone on to continue to grow and improve,” Gibbons stated. “I am confident it will continue to do so in the future.”
Andrew Clinger, Gibbons’ budget director, has said the governor’s request for cut plans doesn’t mean that will happen. He said some agencies could end up with 8 percent reductions but others wouldn’t have to cut as much. A final decision on the plans is expected in early January.
The school-by-school report from Rogers describes how teaching positions at Nevada State College in Henderson would have to be left vacant and programs reduced or even eliminated under the 8 percent plan, resulting in schools unable to meet student needs, staffed by educators whose dedication “exceeds all expectations and rationality.”
Truckee Meadows Community College in Reno would have to reduce part-time instructors and student jobs, delay maintenance and renovation projects, cut budgets for goods and services and take other steps that would have “a long-term devastating impact,” the report says.
Regarding Great Basin College in Elko, the report says the school could use some non-state funding to make up for lost state funds, but that would tap into needed reserves and even impair the school’s accreditation.
Western Nevada Community College, based in Carson City, would have to close its rural centers in outlying communities, including Minden, Yerington, Hawthorne, Fernley and Lovelock, the report says.
At the College of Southern Nevada in Las Vegas, the report says an 8 percent cut is impossible without “substantial layoffs.” Also cited are accreditation concerns and less public access at a school “serving the greatest need among minority students.”
The updated report on UNR says 8 percent cuts would reduce spending by nearly $33 million, and “that devastates the fundamental ability of the university to serve students.” Programs such as oral history, Basque studies, small business development and others would be threatened and intercollegiate sports programs would have to be reevaluated, the report states.
The likelihood of the cuts for various government agencies is growing given a new report showing that key state revenue sources are down – such as levies on sales which were down 1.5 percent in September. That tax is one of the biggest sources of revenue for the state.
The Taxation Department report also showed slumps in business payroll, insurance and real property taxes, and Clinger said that means a bigger “hole” in the budget.
Gibbons has said child welfare and juvenile justice programs are exempt from cuts, along with budgets for K-12 education, public safety, corrections, the judiciary and state worker salaries. With the exemptions in place, about half of all general fund spending approved by state lawmakers earlier this year won’t be changed.
Rogers previously had urged Gibbons to either tap into the state’s “rainy day” fund or convene a special legislative session so that lawmakers could consider raising taxes. The Republican governor, who ran for office on a no-new-taxes platform, has balked at both suggestions.
Rogers also suggested a delay in some highway construction projects, or possibly a reduction in cost-of-living salary increases for state employees.