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April 19, 2014

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higher education:

Administrators say proposed cuts too much to withstand

Hundreds hear the hurt a 36 percent funding decrease would bring

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Mona Shield Payne / Special to the Las Vegas Sun

Jim Rogers, chancellor of Nevada’s public higher education system, speaks with Gerry Bomotti, UNLV vice president of finance and business, and UNLV President David Ashley, right, before a town hall meeting Monday in the UNLV Student Union.

"Education in Crisis" - Town Hall Meeting

Nevada State College student Dana Gorham asks NSC President Fred Maryanski why he and other college presidents didn't stop the underfunding of higher education during a Monday town hall meeting at UNLV. Launch slideshow »

At a town hall meeting at UNLV on budget cuts Monday night, a member of the audience asked why Nevada didn’t implement a new corporate tax to help finance education.

Jim Rogers, chancellor of Nevada’s public higher education system, responded, “We are proposing every kind of tax we can think of.”

His comments drew laughter and claps from an audience of about 600 people who packed a campus ballroom to hear Rogers, Regents Chairman Michael Wixom and the presidents of the College of Southern Nevada, Nevada State College, UNLV and Desert Research Institute talk about budget cuts.

The tone of that exchange was indicative of the tone of the 1 1/2 hour event.

Time and time again, Rogers, Wixom and the presidents emphasized that the higher education system could not sustain the 36 percent cut in state funding that the governor proposed in his budget.

And time and time again, the audience seemed to agree.

That perhaps was no surprise given the magnitude of potential cuts. UNLV President David Ashley said eliminating all faculty salaries and benefits would not save the university enough money to meet the governor’s proposed reduction, which for UNLV would total about 50 percent of its state funding.

“It’s not a proposal that makes any sense,” Ashley said of the governor’s budget.

In a press release Monday, the meeting was billed as a way for higher education officials to seek “community input and ideas related to the state’s budget crisis.”

Though participants offered a variety of ideas, almost all centered on finding new sources of money for higher education — higher taxes, more fundraising, higher student fees. Speakers exhorted the audience to contact legislators to fight cuts.

The event was the second in several days that revealed strong opposition to budget cuts within Nevada’s higher education system. On Thursday, more than 3,000 demonstrators, including students from Southern Nevada’s three public colleges, gathered at UNLV to protest reductions.

But preventing cuts will not be easy. Opposition to new taxes has traditionally been fierce in Nevada, and the gaming industry, small businesses and other interest groups all will be lobbying legislators as they grapple with the state’s budget crisis.

On Monday, Victor Joecks, a spokesman for the Nevada Policy Research Institute, a free-market think tank, provided a taste of the debate that, perhaps, is yet to come.

Taking the microphone as a member of the audience, Joecks asked Rogers to outline what cost-savings the higher education system planned to implement in light of the cuts.

Rogers responded that the system was working to become more efficient, but refused to provide specific saving plans.

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