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state budget:

Education, state workers hit in bare-bones budget

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AP Photo/Nevada Appeal, Cathleen Allison

Nevada Gov. Jim Gibbons delivers his State of the State address in Carson City.

Updated Thursday, Jan. 15, 2009 | 9:01 p.m.

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Nevada State Budget Director Andrew Clinger outlines the proposed state budget in a media briefing Thursday morning at the Capital in Carson City. Gov. Jim Gibbons is delivering the State of the State address at 6 p.m. From left, are State Director of Cultural Affairs Michael Fischer and Josh Hicks, Gibbons' chief of staff.

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Gov. Jim Gibbons wants more than half of state employees to forego merit increases during the period covered by the next state budget.

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CARSON CITY – Gov. Jim Gibbons’ two-year $6.1 billion budget will hit Clark and Washoe counties to help make up the deficit, as well as reducing the benefits of state employees.

If the economy rebounds, the governor would be “happy’’ to call a special session of the Legislature to restore some of the reductions, says Josh Hicks, chief of staff for Gibbons.

Counting federal and other funds such as highway collections, Gibbons is presenting the 2009 Legislature with a $17.3 billion biennial budget or 0.9 percent lower than the 2007-2009 fiscal year spending program.

While it hits hard at the Nevada System of Higher Education with a 35 percent budget reduction, there are smaller cuts to the public schools and human resources programs.

The governor is proposing to take a portion of the property tax away from Clark and Washoe counties totaling $79.1 million over the next two fiscal years. Clark County would lose about $66 million of the total.

There will be an additional 3 percent tax on hotel and motel rooms in those two counties to bring in $292 million over the biennium.

Casinos will suffer a one-time hit of $31 million, as Gibbons wants them to pay the gaming tax on noncollectible markers immediately. Until now, casinos paid the tax when they collected the debts from the unlucky gamblers.

The budget is counting on $107.9 million from the federal economic stimulus package and the state is going to increase from 0.75 percent to 1 percent the fee it charges counties for collecting the sales tax.

A breakdown of the proposed spending for the next two years shows that human services will increase from 28.3 percent to 32.6 percent of the budget; public schools will get 37.1 percent of the state’s general fund budget compared to 34.6 percent; the university system ends up with 13.7 percent, down from the 19.4 percent of two years ago and public safety takes up 9.5 percent of the spending program compared to 9.7 percent two years ago.

Medicaid, the program that supplies medical care for low-income families, is getting $200 million more to cover an expected 10 percent increase in enrollment. Nevada hospitals are being targeted for another 5 percent in reimbursement rates.

The hospitals will also be hit in another area. The state is taking $55 million from the indigent accident fund that reimburses hospitals for treating poor people injured in auto accidents.

The budget reduces by $3 per hour the amount paid to people who care for senior citizens in their home. But it is continuing the senior citizen tax relief program that helps 17,000 elderly persons.

The state’s checkup program that provides preventive care for children will be capped at 25,000 applicants. There are presently 24,000 enrolled. Mike Willden, director of the state Department of Health and Human Resources, estimates there are 55,000 eligible children and pregnant women.

In the public schools, the state’s per pupil support will go from $5,098 to $4,915 next fiscal year and to $4,946 in the 2011 fiscal year. This reduction doesn’t include the proposed 6 percent cutbacks in teacher salaries.

Gibbons proposes to suspend for two years such educational programs as Regional Professional Development, Incentives for Licensed Educational Personnel and Innovation and Prevention of Remediation Grant.

The full-day kindergarten program for at risks schools would remain at the current level. A teacher incentive program won’t be funded for a savings of $50.4 million. But the governor maintains there is enough for books, energy and to meet inflation.

In welfare, the rise in the number of people on public assistance is outstripping the federal share that is contributed. The state will have to put in an extra $12 million because of the limit on the federal share. The welfare division will receive a 10 percent increase in its budget to handle the rise in cases during the next biennium.

The governor’s budget envisions closing eight of the 20 mental health clinics in rural Nevada. And reducing staff at the three hospitals in other areas but the 234-beds at the hospital in Las Vegas will continue to operate at that level. The staff will be lowered but it will still be at the average national rate.

Gibbons is putting more money in the state Health Division to allow more inspections of health facilities. There is enough money to allow for a growth in cases in the child and family welfare programs in Clark and Washoe County, according to budget officials. And that agency budget is increasing 10 percent.

The governor intends to save more than $900 million by reducing the pay of state workers and school teachers by 6 percent; requiring state employees to pay more for their health insurance and retirement and suspending merit and longevity payments to them.

The Department of Cultural Affairs will suffer a 35 percent reduction in its budget, meaning museums will be closed four of the seven days – open only on Thursday, Friday Saturday and Sunday. But Director Michael Fischer said there is federal money for continued supplies for Nevada libraries during these hard times when people use the libraries more often.

The state Arts Council and the Historic Preservation Programs will be reduced by 50 percent in their budgets. The state Museum in White Pine County will be closed.

The proposed budget calls for the state Department of Corrections to receive $480.9 million, down 10.7 percent. It suggests closure of the old Nevada State Prison in Carson City and the conservation camp in Tonopah. Director Howard Skolnik said less crime is being committed and there are fewer people being sent to prison.

There will be major cutbacks in operations of the state park system. There will be seasonal closures of 10 state parks including the visitor’s center at Cathedral Gorge in Southern Nevada and reduced hours at the Las Vegas Mormon Fort.

The Elgin School House Park outside Caliente will be closed because the road washed out. And the Walker Lake State Park will be shut down because water level is so low that the boat launching facility is out of the water.

The Legislative Counsel Bureau, which acts as staff for the Legislature, will take a 20 percent reduction in its appropriation.

The proposed budget for the Nevada Supreme Court rises 12.3 percent to $55 million.

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

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