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April 18, 2014

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Salary cuts, furloughs OK’ed in budget deal

State workers will take a 4 percent pay cut by being forced to take one furlough day a month while teachers and higher education employees also will be asked to take a 4 percent cut.

A joint Assembly and Senate committee meeting Monday night voted unanimously after leadership from both parties spent hours hammering out a deal.

Gov. Jim Gibbons had recommended a 6 percent cut to state workers, teachers and higher education employees to make up for the state's budget shortfall. Last week, he said he would recommend a higher pay cut to meet a growing budget gap.

Legislative staff said they could not cut more than 4 percent from higher education and teachers because of federal stimulus dollars that require the state to maintain certain funding for education.

"This is one of the hardest decisions to make when closing the budget," said Speaker Barbara Buckley, D-Las Vegas. "It's fair to say, no legislature wants to cut any of those funds. Unfortunately, revenue is 44 percent below what we need to fund current levels of funding."

Legislators said the idea to furlough state workers one day a month came from the state worker's union. While no one said that taking off one day a month without pay equaled 4.6 percent, the estimate came from state budget director Andrew Clinger.

Senate Minority Leader Bill Raggio, R-Reno, said, "This motion comes as a result of extensive discussions ... This is not an easy decision."

While the Legislature sets pay raises or reductions for state employees, they can only make recommendations on what school districts do with K-12 employees and higher education does with university employees.

"This stings," said Lynn Warne, president of the Nevada State Education Association. But, she added, "These are very difficult times. I believe they've done all they can do."

Because the Legislature sets the funding, if school districts don't reach an agreement with county school unions, the cuts will have to come from someplace else.

The joint committee also decided to suspend merit pay increases for state employees and longevity pay.

This is a key week for the Legislature as it closes many of the remaining large budget issues. A core group of legislators has been meeting to come to a consensus on what to cut and what taxes to raise. Buckley said after today's meeting that no agreement had been reached on anything other than salaries.

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