Las Vegas Sun

October 21, 2014

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THE STATE BUDGET:

Let the airing of the budget begin

Legislative committee begins a weeklong review of governor’s plan

Just about everyone has beaten up on the governor’s budget in the past week.

Expect a new round of it starting today.

Over the next week, a legislative committee will hear from a parade of administration officials who will lay out in detail Gov. Jim Gibbons’ budget.

The hearings will be more than an educational exercise for senators and Assembly members. Legislators unhappy with the governor’s proposed budget intend to try to build public support for the alternative — a tax increase.

But for now, Democrats will not focus on their own version of the budget. Instead, they will devote the hearings to the spending plan Gibbons proposed.

Democrats are hoping for opposition to come from outside the hearings as well, starting tonight with a protest at UNLV against Gibbons’ budget. At public schools in the weeks ahead, teachers will talk to parents about the pay cuts they’re being asked to take. And Democrats hope people who depend on state services will call their legislators.

The budget Gibbons unveiled a week ago includes a 6 percent pay cut for state workers, teachers and university employees. It raises the amount those workers pay for benefits and cuts 36 percent of state funding for higher education. The budget also limits the number of poor children eligible for health care, makes broad cuts in different state programs like such as Veterans Affairs and takes money from Clark and Washoe counties.

Andrew Clinger, the governor’s budget director, is scheduled to give the opening presentation at the hearings, a “30,000-foot” view of the governor’s budget.

Clinger said the hearings can help because legislators “ask questions along a certain line. You get an idea of what the sticking points are going to be.”

Republicans, particularly defenders of Gibbons, have complained that Democrats have simply cast stones at the unpopular chief executive and not offered another way out of the budget shortfall.

“I’ve noticed that while there are people critical of the governor’s budget, there are no alternatives yet,” Clinger said. “There are people who even say they have crisscrossed the state to come up with ideas to help solve the budget crisis. I haven’t heard an idea yet.”

Indeed, Assembly Speaker Barbara Buckley and Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford, Las Vegas Democrats who have held public meetings to discuss the state’s budget woes, have demurred when asked about tax increases. Instead, they talk about eliminating abatements and incentives.

Don’t expect an opposition budget to emerge anytime soon.

“I would say that you will begin to see alternatives Feb. 2,” Buckley said. “That’s when the legislative process begins.”

Assemblywoman Sheila Leslie, a Reno Democrat and vice chairwoman of the Assembly Ways and Means Committee, said the state Legislature has never come up with its own budget. Instead, legislators use the governor’s budget as a base, and work from there.

She said any talk about new revenue is premature.

“First, we have to go through the budget,” she said. Legislators will decide which levels of cuts they will accept, and which they will reverse. “And then we’ll tackle how we get there. It’s a very detailed, deliberative process.”

She said to watch especially for the hearings Tuesday, when K-12 administrators and Chancellor Jim Rogers are scheduled to testify.

“I do expect a lot of public testimony, grass-root activism, around the education cuts,” she said.

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