Published Wednesday, April 20, 2011 | 7:35 p.m.
Updated Wednesday, April 20, 2011 | 9:43 p.m.
U.S. Rep. Shelley Berkley, D-Nev., fresh into her run for Senate, admonished the Nevada Legislature today not to gut education, arguing it would cripple the state’s efforts to recover from the recession.
Berkley’s 25-minute speech before a joint session of the Legislature came just 24 hours after an emotional debate over education funding ground the Assembly to a standstill, with Republicans backing Gov. Brian Sandoval’s proposed $700 million cut to education and Democrats begging for a compromise on taxes to prevent it.
“I’m very careful not to criticize people in this room,” Berkley said, noting the debate that stretched almost until midnight on Tuesday. “But in my mind, gutting our education system is shortchanging our children and almost as importantly as that, it is undermining our ability to diversify our economy.”
Sandoval attended the speech but was unavailable after to give a reaction to Berkley’s comments.
Talking to reporters after her speech, Berkley said lawmakers can’t let revenue challenges deprive “an entire generation of people” of an education and stressed the importance of diverting federal dollars into Nevada’s education system.
Berkley acknowledged that would be difficult as Congress and President Barack Obama debate ways to rein in the federal deficit and debt through significant spending cuts.
In her speech, Berkley largely avoided the question of how to curb spending — other than to suggest ending efforts to store nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain — and instead focused on what she would seek to protect from Republican budget-cutting efforts.
She railed against a proposal to replace the current Medicare system with a voucher program, arguing it would throw vulnerable seniors to the whims of insurance companies.
“It doesn’t matter if you’re Republican, Democrat or independent, we’re all getting old and we’re all going to get sick,” she said. “What we need to do is fix, not destroy, this nation’s Medicare system.”
She also stressed the need to provide critical services for veterans, senior citizens and homeowners struggling with foreclosures.
Berkley’s potential Republican opponent in next year’s Senate race, U.S. Rep. Dean Heller, D-Nev., is scheduled to address the Legislature on Thursday. UPDATE: Heller's speech has been canceled. He'll be attending the service for UNR president Milt Glick, who died Saturday.