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state budget:

Gibbons defends cuts, says critics have no alternatives

Updated Tuesday, Jan. 27, 2009 | 6:45 p.m.

Gov. Jim Gibbons defended his budget proposal and cuts to higher education in a question and answer session Tuesday morning with members of the Reno-Sparks Chamber of Commerce.

Gibbons said his critics have not offered alternatives to his plan. He pointed out that with the size of the deficit, to avoid cuts a tax increase would have to be massive.

"I have no idea where they would find the revenue to meet the rhetoric," he said. "I've heard a lot of rhetoric, but I don't know what their solutions are. Their decisions might not be more palatable than ours."

Gibbons last week presented a budget with deep cuts. In the ensuing hearings that began on Thursday, and continue through Wednesday, legislators from both parties have said there would be major changes to Gibbons' budget.

Speaker Barbara Buckley and Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford responded Tuesday evening to Gibbons’ criticism that his political opponents have not offered up their own plan.

“The governor and his full-time staff have had more than six months to come up with a vision and budget for Nevada — legislators have had four days of budget hearings,” the Democrats said in the joint statement. “The Legislature, working in a bi-partisan approach, will do the job the Governor has failed to do: provide vision and leadership during tough economic times.”

The statement also said “the governor has chosen mediocrity for our state and our children.”

On Tuesday morning, some chamber members expressed skepticism about Gibbons' proposal.

Steven Laden, a vice president with a financial service firm, said he believed that an educated workforce would be important for Nevada to diversify its economy. Laden said that Gibbons' cuts to higher education would undermine that.

Laden said he knows several "top local kids who are looking out of state" to go to college.

"We can't have every student in the state," Gibbons responded, pointing to competition from Harvard, Yale and Stanford. The cuts to higher education would put Nevada in a worse position to rebound from the recession, Laden said.

Gibbons responded, "The Board of Regents makes the decisions. And when I see they're spending $16,000 on a desk, I wonder where they're spending money on. I don't control their budget."

Laden said after Gibbons' speech that he was unsatisfied with his response. "I don't think he answered the question."

When another Chamber of Commerce member asked Gibbons about spending more money on infrastructure, Gibbons said Nevada has "some of the best highways in the United States." But, Gibbons said, "where's the revenue? When you have to cut your budget 35 percent, that's the reality. We'd like the finest highways, health care, education systems. The fact is, we don't have the revenue."

When the member responded that Nevada should increase the gas tax or fees on drivers licenses, Gibbons said, "I'm not into that philosophy of raising taxes yet."

Gibbons also dismissed a question about looking at Yucca Mountain for money.

"I oppose Yucca Mountain. I always have and always will." He said the site was chosen for political reasons, not for scientific reasons. Gibbons also said his top priority once the state gets more revenue would be to increase pay of teachers and state workers. He has proposed asking them to take a 6 percent pay cut.

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