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April 18, 2014

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Hundreds attend town hall meeting to weigh in on state budget crisis

Lawmakers hear what constituents think about how to close $881 million budget gap

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Kyle B. Hansen

More than 600 people came to a town hall meeting Saturday where people were able to share their budget ideas and concerns with state legislators.

Steven Horsford

Steven Horsford

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People filled an overflow room at the Grant Sawyer Building for a town hall meeting Saturday on the state budget.

Sun Coverage

More than 600 people showed up for a town hall meeting Saturday with 20 state lawmakers to address Nevada’s budget crisis and the upcoming special session of the Legislature.

The meeting at the Grant Sawyer State Office Building in downtown Las Vegas filled three rooms and lasted nearly seven hours. More than 100 people shared their ideas about how the state could save money and what programs should or shouldn’t be cut.

State Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford, who moderated the event, said he benefited from the meeting.

“There were a lot of great suggestions, many of which we will follow up on and I hope will be part of a final set of solutions that balance this budget,” he said after the meeting.

As the economy continues to struggle and revenue falls, the state is facing an $881 million budget deficit.

Gov. Jim Gibbons said he will sign a proclamation on Tuesday calling the Legislature into a special session starting Feb. 23 to address the situation.

People’s comments at the town hall ranged from suggestions to raise the sales tax to lowering the sales tax.

Some said the state should tax companies headquartered outside the state while others suggested the state focus on cutting services.

The hottest topic was education as lawmakers heard from students, teachers parents and alumni of Southern Nevada’s high schools and colleges.

Jessica Lucero, the president of UNLV’s Graduate and Professional Student Association, came with many of her classmates and was one of the last people to address the legislators.

She pleaded with them not to raise student fees or cut the university’s programs. “Please raise taxes, raise revenue,” she said.

“I’m a hopeless optimist that they are actually listening and taking notes and it’s not all show,” Lucero said after the meeting. “There’s been a lot of people telling them to look at revenue and not just make cuts, so I hope it will make a difference.”

Not everyone, however, agreed.

Jerry Soderquist, who operates a catering business and is opening restaurants here, said he has found Nevada — Las Vegas in particular — unfriendly to business.

He said he hopes the state won’t raise taxes, especially sales tax, which he thinks would hurt his business. And, he said, after collecting all those taxes, he still pays other fees for his business.

“What do they do with all that money?” he asked.

Horsford said after the meeting that the Legislature will be looking at raising revenue, but that doesn’t mean higher taxes.

“I don’t feel that we need to raise taxes in the special session because of the recession that we’re in,” he said.

“There are user fees, which we heard repeatedly from the public today, that they would be willing to share along with whatever businesses or industries would also have to pay those fees, and that is a viable solution that we are looking at,” Horsford said.

A number of speakers recommended raising taxes on the mining industry. But Horsford pointed out that would require changing the state Constitution, two public votes and could take five years to accomplish.

Bonnie Peck, a teacher and member of the Clark County Education Association’s executive board, asked the Legislature not make any more cuts to schools or social services for the mentally ill.

She said a family member suffers from mental illness and is treated at Mojave Medical Center, which relies on Medicaid funding.

“That’s a huge concern of mine,” she said. “It’s because of them that she hasn’t committee suicide.”

Peck said she thought the meeting was a good opportunity for politicians to hear from their constituents.

“I think it’s important for them to face the public and be accountable for what they are doing,” she said.

Horsford agreed.

“I think it’s important that constituents know that their elected officials care. A lot of times people have this conception that we’re so far removed from the problems that they’re facing,” he said.

“We had several people who were heard today that maybe I didn’t agree with their opinion, but we heard them and that matters, because this is their government and everyone deserves to be represented in it,” he said.

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