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January 28, 2015

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Sandoval eyes students’ wallets to help close deficit


AP Photo/Cathleen Allison

Gov. Brian Sandoval waves to the crowd following Monday’s inauguration ceremony, Jan. 3, 2011 at the Capitol in Carson City.

Tuition hikes

KSNV coverage of Gov. Brian Sandoval's proposal to raise tuition at Nevada colleges and universities, Jan. 6, 2011.

Heidi Gansert

Heidi Gansert

Steven Horsford

Steven Horsford

Gov. Brian Sandoval’s guiding philosophy in building a state budget has been his promise not to raise taxes or fees.

In this economy, he argues, businesses and families just can’t afford to pay more to fund their government. Except, that is, for students.

Sandoval this week suggested to higher education officials that they could “significantly” increase tuition to colleges and universities to offset his proposed cuts in state funding, according to higher education officials.

They were unhappy, wondering why they appeared to be exempt from Sandoval’s viewpoint on the budget and economy.

“The statement that Nevada can’t afford higher taxes, but (higher education) can afford higher fees is hard to understand,” said Gregory Brown, a professor at UNLV and vice president of the Nevada Faculty Alliance. “It runs counter to principles he seems committed to.”

It’s not the first inconsistency in Sandoval’s ideology, which he has embraced with surprising gusto since entering the race for governor in September 2009.

Before the election, Sandoval said he would support passing state services on to local governments. In exchange, he said, he would allow cities and counties to raise taxes and fees.

Sandoval’s chief of staff, Heidi Gansert, said there have been no recent discussions about giving local governments the power to raise taxes. Cities and counties need approval from the Legislature to raise money.

But, she noted, the Nevada System of Higher Education has the option of raising fees and tuition to offset cuts. Sandoval supports giving the universities and colleges the power to keep those increased fees, which return to the state’s general fund.

“They’re going to have to decide, when looking at their budget, if they can live with the cuts,” Gansert said. “They’re one of the unique areas where they can raise fees.”

She said Nevada’s colleges and universities charge low tuition compared with similar institutions in other states. That means taxpayers subsidize the institutions more than in other places.

“This governor has been clear he will not raise any fees or new taxes, to make sure the economy recovers as quickly as possible,” Gansert said.

Asked if Sandoval would consider raising other fees or taxes if Nevada’s are low compared with other states, Gansert said, “I haven’t seen those charts.”

Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford, D-Las Vegas, said Sandoval’s suggestion that the university raise tuition “is shifting the problem to others, rather than owning it and dealing with it straight on.”

Horsford, who put himself through UNR, said, “I’m concerned that for every percent tuition is increased, a middle-income family or students putting themselves through college won’t be able to attend.”

Fees have become a sticky wicket for Nevada’s conservative politicians, as they try to find what sources of revenue are acceptable to the vocal budget hawks.

In February’s special session to balance the budget, legislators — including then-Minority Leader Assemblywoman Gansert — signed off on a combination of cuts and fee increases to close an $830 million budget gap.

Sandoval attacked then-Gov. Jim Gibbons for agreeing to raise those fees.

At other times, industries have volunteered to pay higher fees to cover the cost of regulation. Sandoval has promised not to raise those fees, either.

At the tail end of the Gibbons administration, it was working closely with Sandoval’s staff. Gibbons’ former chief of staff, Robin Reedy, made plain her disagreement with Sandoval’s staff over fees.

“If a fee is for a service that is basically helping a segment of either society or business, capitalism means they should pay that cost of doing business,” Reedy told the television show “Nevada NewsMakers,” according to the Nevada News Bureau.

The conservative Nevada Taxpayers Association supports fees “where a fee charged provides a specific service to a specific group of individuals, and is not used to support the general fund,” said Carole Vilardo, the group’s president.

Conservative groups have generally supported increasing higher education tuitions, because it is akin to paying for a service, such as fees charged to hold a party at a park.

But Brown said that approach ignores the broader benefits of higher education to the state.

“Higher education is demonstrably a public good,” he said. “It brings a benefit to the economy, to the society, to the well-being — physically, culturally — of the whole far beyond one individual.”

Nevada has a poor ranking nationally on indicators for higher education. Some business and community leaders have said that hurts the state’s chances at economic diversification.

The state is 46th nationwide in higher education funding per capita; 45th in residents with a bachelor’s degree; and 41st in the number of 18- to 24-year-olds who enroll in state universities.

Jim Richardson, a UNR professor and longtime lobbyist for the Nevada Faculty Alliance, said the size of any tuition increase needed to make a dent in the state’s budget deficit would be too great.

“This would be a heavy hit and a shift of burden to parents and sons and daughters of Nevadans,” Richardson said. “It’s too much. It would drive people away, discourage them from attending higher education institutions in the state.”

Average in-state tuition is about $5,600 per year at UNLV and UNR. That figure excludes books, room and board, lab fees and other costs, according to a higher education spokesman. Average yearly tuition for the College of Southern Nevada is $2,243.

But that represents a large increase from where it was a few years ago. Tuition for university undergraduates has increased 50 percent since the 2006-07 school year; for graduate students, it has increased 60 percent; for community colleges the fees have increased 32 percent.

Chancellor Dan Klaich and regents Chairman James Dean Leavitt met Wednesday with Sandoval and his senior staff in Carson City.

“The reality we’re facing as a state and a system of higher education is bleak,” Leavitt said. “We told him further cuts would cause irreparable damage to the system.”

Leavitt said students “should expect significantly higher fees.” He wouldn’t be more specific, saying “ ‘significant’ is scary enough.”

Sandoval has not said how he plans to balance the budget without new or higher taxes and is not required to until Jan. 24.

Sandoval thinks any increase in tuition should be coupled with scholarship programs or increased student access to federal aid, Gansert said.

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  1. I figured that you were going to quietly sit at your desk and smile, collecting paychecks...doing nothing... you projected in your "promise little and reveal nothing" award-winning, campaign strategy.

    Making higher education less accessible by increasing its costs is an "education tax" in disguise.

    "Doing nothing" was a better idea, Brian,

  2. Why not have a State Lottery? Lotteries have raised Millions of Dollars for States but Nevada doesn't have one. Why?

    It is truly IRONIC, and beyond belief, that NEVADA of all States does not have a lottery.

  3. Did the Chancellor and Regents get the memo? There is a substantial shortfall in revenue. The Chancellor and the Regents then passed a budget requesting increases this past fall. Every other agency was asked to come up with budgets to reflect 10 percent cut, but higher education said no.

    Their argument was the Economic Forum hadn't weighed in on revenues.

    Fast forward: January 2011 and the Forum made its projects in December. The Chancellor and Regents still haven't got the message. Their jobs are to guide the system through this mess and at the present they just whine. Time to pony up and propose some long-term solutions that acknowledge the revenue constraints. People can make up their minds. They have had 3 months since their last budget.

    I believe the University system has to come up with a serious plan of partnership with the taxpayers. This is the money it is going to take over a period of time and this is what Nevada gets in return in terms of education opportunities and at cost that can be absorbed by students, parents and the taxpayer. This recession isn't a short-term deal, this is a structural change in the state's fortunes. I haven't seen this plan.

    I have serious doubts about the competence of Chancellor Klaich.

  4. Lotteries traditionally raise money in general from the poor and middle class who don't see them for the sucker bet they are (remind me again what the odds were in that mega millionare thing?).
    Gambling interests are completely against what they see as poaching on their customer base. Therefore a lottery is a bad idea as it is a form of regressive taxation (one reason conservatives love it is the shift from requiring more from the middle and upper class taxpayers who benefit the most from higher ed) and that it takes money from gambling interests. Those gambling interests then pay less tax on profit, reducing money coming into state coffers.

  5. I know that when I checked tuition rates for colleges a few years ago for my son's education, Nevada had an astonishing low cost compared to other state universities. After living in LV these past two years I can see the education is wasted unless the graduate is involved in a gaming related profession. Very sad!

  6. Governor Sandoval is to be commended for religiously following the Republican Party rule of taking out and and all shortfalls on the middle class. And even the poor. While pandering to corporations, the rich and anyone else who will listen to his malarkey.

    Making the entirety of Nevada dumber by taking it out on students to pay higher tuition fees, thereby making them not able to even attend higher education classes to receive much needed degrees, rather than making the filthy rich and the corporations who prey on us pay, those that can easily afford it without any break in their excesses and livelihoods, follows along with the Republican Party policies...which are set in stone. And this policy will prove to be their downfall.

    I already see Governor Sandoval as a one term Governor (if he even reaches that pinnacle) due to early rhetoric and hair brained ideas he throws out there.

    This is Nevada. The poor and the middle class run this State. These people are his constituents. They own this State. And they surely outnumber the rich in this State. They WILL, in the end, have a say and WILL be paid attention to.

    If Governor Sandoval believes he has the power to do what he wants and hide behind the stupid saying "doing the will of the people," he will definitely have a rude awakening when he finds himself bounced out of power.

    It happened with Gibbons.

    And it can easily happen again.

    There's only so much Nevada taxpayers can put up with.

  7. If a lottery is bad because it is "regressive taxation", then so are slot machines. Ever see all those poor people smoking cheap cigarettes in the 7-Elevens and Am/Pm markets at 2am, perched on a stool and poring money into the machines that they don't have?

    That's because slot machines, as you said, "traditionally raise money in general from the poor and middle class" - right, and you can see it from 12am-8am all over Las Vegas.

  8. A per-capita higher ed spending figure is misleading. Per capita means per person in the entire state. Few college students but lots of residents can have a low per capita spending. The appropriate figure to look at is per-pupil spending - which Nevada ranked 15th in the nation.

    see figure 13 on page 33

  9. The state is 46th nationwide in higher education funding per capita; 45th in residents with a bachelor's degree; and 41st in the number of 18- to 24-year-olds who enroll in state universities.

    Why can't we go whole-hog and beat out Mississippi (or is it Texas or Arkansas)for the 50th spot in all these categories?

    Yes, the more I look at the picture at the top, the more I see an Alfred E. Newman smile, with the caption, "What, me worry?"

  10. I also disagree somewhat with Dr. Brown that higher education is a public good. The biggest beneficiary of the education is the individual, by far. And with UNLV's Van Wilder graduation rate below 50 percent you can hardly call it a public good at all.

  11. SunJon must not live here anymore. Considering you haven't been able to smoke inside a 7-11 or am/pm in over 2-3 years.

  12. and PatrickRGibbons - The biggest benefit to higher education will always be to the individual, it is in turn that individual that contributes to the public good. Don't you think that having quality education may bring companies to Nevada that would hire these well educated folks rather than them dropping out to work the Hotel/Gaming/Club industries?

  13. Sandoval has no worries about his own children's ability to afford college. Mr. Sandoval, step outside your comfort zone and look around. Please.

  14. Welcome to California! The colleges and universities here have been raising fees for years, and every time they do, the highest paid people at the university get huge raises, therefore sucking away a large chunk of the money gained by fee increases. The university President here has a $350k salary here (2008 figures), along with a very substantial housing allowance (enough to pay for a place in any of the most exclusive neighborhoods in town) and "entertainment" allowance. He's a good guy, but couldn't a good guy live just fine on 250k and no "entertainment" allowance? Many administrators (who'se numbers have increased) also draw huge sums. Time to get real with the high administrative salaries. Of course the brunt of these costs are absorbed by people who can't get a scholarship because their parents made $45k last year (before taxes), and are considered "rich". (try living "rich" on $45k with no housing allowance or entertainment allowance).
    Political party has little to do with it, our last 2 governors (Davis and Arnold) were both terrible in the taxes and fees department, and in the "appoint my friends to cushy $100k+ jobs on state committees" department too. Meanwhile our taxes and fees have gone way up and the state is still deeper in debt, screaming for more.
    The lottery here was promoted as a way to "save the schools". Well, the lottery has been here for 20 years and the schools have just gotten worse every year since, and still demand more and more $$.
    We have Moonbeam II now for governor......Things can only get worse from here. He's already talking on a vote for another sales and income tax increase. I only see it getting worse from here.
    As California goes Nevada.

  15. There is only one reason Nevada won't develop a lottery or join the mega lottery. That is because the casino's feel it would cut into their winnings from the citizenry. The yoke the casino industry holds on Nevada needs to be broken. If nothing else, the current economic crisis should provide bold evidence of a need for diversification in Nevada's industries.