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state budget:

Democratic response: Legislature will overhaul tax structure

Updated Thursday, Jan. 15, 2009 | 10:19 p.m.

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CARSON CITY – Assembly Speaker Barbara Buckley, D-Las Vegas, said the Legislature intends to overhaul the state’s financial structure so there will not be “draconian cuts to education and public safety every time the economy tanks.”

Buckley delivered the Democratic response to the State of the State message delivered by Gov. Jim Gibbons who was adamant against raising taxes or changing the structure.

Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford said the governor was balancing the budget “on the backs of education. He said he did not think the proposed 6 percent pay cut to school teachers would go very far. “I don’t think that’s the answer.”

They also criticized the plan by the governor to cut 35 percent from the budget of the Nevada System of Higher Education. They said that would hit UNLV and UNR with reductions of close to 50 percent. Some of the smaller community colleges did not get hit that hard. “We might as well close them down,” Buckley said.

Gibbons said Nevada is second only to Washington D.C. in tuition charged its students. And Washington D.C. is all federally funded, he told reporters at a news conference after his speech. And the board of regents has the ability to raise tuition.

Buckley said her meetings and town hall sessions across the state in the past four month brought “specific ideas on revenue – everything from innovative ways to streamline agencies to creation of a lottery.”

Buckley, considered a Democratic candidate for governor in 2010, criticized the cuts in the Gibbons’ budget in education, at the university, in the paychecks of the state workers and in mental health.

“Does it really make sense to cut the salaries of our teachers, who dedicate themselves to educating our children, when we need the best and brightest in these jobs?” she asked.

The governor is calling for a 6 percent in salaries for state workers and school teachers. The governor made the reductions to help cover a shortfall of $2.3 billion dollars.

Buckley also said the reduction in payments to hospitals might mean closure of hospitals in Pershing and Nye counties.

Gibbons suggested that 4 cents from the property tax rate be switched to the state from Clark and Washoe counties for the next two years. Clark County would lose $66 million and Washoe County would be short about $13 million over the two years.

That brought an immediate response from Clark County Commission Chairman Rory Reid who called the proposal by Gibbons “shortsighted and irresponsible.”

Reid said “The governor is simply avoiding making the tough decisions. Instead, he is trying to pass these difficult choices on to local government.”

Lt. Gov. Brian Krolicki, who is chairman of both the states Tourism and Economic Development commission, opposed consolidating them. And he didn’t like the plan to cut the tourism budget by 50 percent. “There’s a fine line … you can’t loot the future to balance the budget today.”

He said there must be a “hard look” at reducing tourism by 50 percent since it generates money for the state.

Assistant Senate Minority Leader Dennis Nolan, R-Las Vegas, said he understood the decisions of the governor to cut back programs. He said it makes sense to cut salaries rather than having mass layoffs, like has happened in private industry.

Senate Minority Leader Bill Raggio, R-Reno, didn’t attend the “State of the State” speech held in the Assembly chambers in the Legislative Building in Carson City.

Buckley hit at the Gibbons’ budget on education. The governor proposed a 35 percent cut in the spending program for the Nevada System of Higher Education.

“'Education First' should not mean cutting education funding first -- It should mean preserving education funding first,” Buckley said.

She did not have any firm suggestions on meeting the $2.3 billion shortfall.

Gibbons, in justifying the reductions, said “We can’t provide everything we want.”

Buckley complained the governor’s budget eliminates any money for the state Attorney General to carry on the fight against siting the nuclear waste dump at Yucca Mountain. But Gibbons said she was mistaken. There is $7 million in the state’s nuclear projects budget available for legal fights.

The budget committees of the Legislature will meet Jan. 22 to start its review of the governor’s budget. The full Legislature convenes Feb. 2.

Buckley said, “We will gather all the facts, tap the best minds in the state, hear all points of view and commit ourselves to funding meaningful solutions that, at the very least, do not send our state careening backwards and at best create a road map for future stability and progress.”

Buckley said the Democrat-controlled Legislature will “re-evaluate tax incentives that have been given for years to certain businesses and end those that do not make sense.”

Gibbons, in his State of the State called for continued tax incentives for renewable energy projects, such as solar in the Las Vegas area and geothermal in the north.

He said his goal is to make Nevada and energy exporting state.

While Buckley said the tax system would be overhauled, Gibbons said, “Our existing tax system brought us record job growth and prosperity for decades. He said other states with different tax system are experiencing the same problems as Nevada.

Buckley said the governor hasn’t revealed the full impact of the “drastic cuts he is proposing.”

Gibbons called for cooperation between his office and the Legislature. “Grandstanding and partisan bickering help no one in this state and Nevadans deserve better.”

Cy Ryan may be reached at (775) 687 5032 or [email protected].

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