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April 24, 2014

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State of the State:

Sorting out the truth from both sides’ claims about proposed budget

Budget cuts

KSNV coverage of Gov. Brian Sandoval's proposed state budget, Jan. 25, 2011.

Sun Coverage

Treat numbers like politicians: skeptically.

During Tuesday’s budget hearings, Democratic lawmakers jousted with Gov. Brian Sandoval’s administration over the size of proposed cuts in the governor’s budget to school districts and the higher education system.

“I believe there’s trickery trying to understate the problem,” Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford told chief of staff Heidi Gansert and Budget Director Andrew Clinger during a meeting.

Clinger and Gansert both denied the charge.

But the question remains:

Just how much is Sandoval proposing to cut from K-12 school districts and higher education?

To a certain extent, it’s like the question of how big the state’s overall budget deficit is. Sandoval calls it $1.2 billion, Democrats put it as high as $3 billion. (The Las Vegas Sun puts it at $2.2 billion, a number also used by nonpartisan analysts.)

But identifying the numbers in an honest way helps frame the debate.

So how big are the proposed cuts? Who’s using fuzzy math? The Sun put that, and other claims over the past couple days, to a truth test.

EDUCATION

• Claim: In Sandoval’s State of the State address, he said his budget would cut K-12 funding by “over 9 percent” and higher education by 17.7 percent.

• Counterclaim: Horsford and other Democrats said those numbers were artificially low. It compared current spending with Sandoval’s proposal over the next two years.

They argue that the comparison should be between spending approved by the Legislature in 2009 and the proposed spending. That would make the discrepancy in spending — and the size of the cut — bigger.

• The facts: Legislative tradition dictates you compare legislatively approved budgets from two years ago versus legislatively proposed budgets for the following two years. But these are unprecedented times for Nevada government, with a record number of special sessions and rounds of budget cuts.

The way most folks would evaluate the size of the cut is comparing current spending with proposed spending.

• The verdict: Sandoval’s numbers accurately reflect what he is proposing, but don’t paint the full picture.

His budget proposal would cut K-12 by 9.29 percent and higher education by 17.7 percent. But those cuts also assume a couple of things. For K-12, it assumes $425 million in capital project bond money is transferred for operating costs, a one-time fix.

For higher education, it assumes that $121 million in property taxes will be redirected from Clark and Washoe counties to UNLV and UNR.

If the Legislature decides to block those revenue increases, Sandoval’s budget cuts would be much larger.

HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES

• Claim: Sandoval said he rejected the previous administration’s cuts to things like mental health, early intervention and autism treatment, and restored $118 million to the Health and Human Services Department.

“We did not blindly accept the cuts requested by the prior administration,” Sandoval said. “We also preserved funds for traumatic brain injury services, autism, early intervention services, independent living, medically necessary dentures, prosthetics and orthotics — the list goes on. These programs are preserved.”

• Counterclaim: Democrats and advocates for services said Sandoval is downplaying the effect his budget will have on Health and Human Services. For example, although he said he “preserved” funding for things like autism treatment, his budget eliminates one of the three programs available for autistic children.

• The facts: Let’s start by defending Gov. Jim Gibbons and the previous administration. The budget office asked departments last summer to prepare scenarios where their budgets were cut by 10 percent. That included some tough-to-stomach cuts, such as personal care attendants to help quadriplegics. But this was never conceived as a final list.

Sandoval and his staff restored $118 million from that list of cuts, many of which were publicized by the media.

But he still cut $275 million from what the agency recommended.

The budget is a tangle of spaghetti, and advocates are still sorting out each noodle and whether it got cut. But let’s take autism.

Three programs help service those with autism. One was eliminated, another will get less funding and another will get more funding.

• The verdict: Sandoval did not “preserve” all of these services, as he claimed. Democrats’ contention Tuesday that many of these areas would still be cut is true.

Again, take autism funding.

Autism treatment will end for 174 children who receive services through regional treatment centers in Las Vegas, Reno and rural Nevada. These are children diagnosed with two conditions, like autism plus mental retardation. These children will not get treatment — physical or speech therapy, occupational therapy — for autism, although they will still be eligible for treatment for the developmental disability, said Mary Liveratti, deputy director of the Health and Human Services Department.

The “early intervention” service to children from birth to 3 years old will still be preserved, to try to diagnose the youngest with autism.

The final program, which gives grants of about $1,500 to families with autistic children, will be preserved, but there will be less money in the system than in the past two years. That is because of unspent money that had been leftover from prior years.

There are about 200 children on the wait list, she said.

Ralph Toddre, who with Liveratti and another parent advocate sits on the Nevada Commission for Autism Spectrum Disorders, said Sandoval told him that all autism services would be preserved.

“I’m very, very disappointed” in the cuts, Toddre said.

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  1. Several have suggested the people are willing to pay higher taxes to support schools.

    I suggest we ask parents of students to voluntily support the school system. Parents would be asked to donate to the school that their student attends a monthly amount to cover the shortfall. I'm estimating this to be $30.00 per month per student.

    This will get parents interested and invested in there kids education. The value of a quality education far exceeds the $30 cost.

  2. B.S.'s Budget = More Unemployment for Nevada Families and Less Education and Job Retraining for Everyone.

  3. In my opinion, our (U.S.) economy is battling deflation. As a result, most companies have diminished sales and earnings. The drop in profits for many companies has been larger than the suggested reduction in spending for government services.

    Forcing tax hikes onto these companies will put some out of business and other will be required to lay off employees.

    Hence, the conundrum of deflation. The solution requires out of the box thinking.