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March 28, 2015

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Memo From Carson City:

Money games make it tough to trust government

Chancellor Dan Klaich

Chancellor Dan Klaich

Ben Kieckhefer

Ben Kieckhefer

The stone of government is squeezed dry. No gimmick will yield a drop more. No budget sleight of hand can save the day. This time, lawmakers and the public are told, the cuts will hurt — students will be turned away from school, teachers laid off, seniors left to die in the streets.

That, the argument goes, is why the state must raise taxes.

Then on Wednesday, Senate Democrats said they wanted to spare college and university students a double hit on tuition. The higher education system could raise fees 13 percent in the first year, but not in the second, as the system had planned, said Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford, D-North Las Vegas.

Why? Chancellor Dan Klaich told the committee the system could find the $22 million that the fee and tuition increases would generate elsewhere in the budget.

Sen. Ben Kieckhefer, R-Reno, was stunned. “You just found $22 million in one minute?” he asked during the hearing.

“Why are we talking about eliminating programs when you can find $22 million from the table to the chair?” he said in an interview after. “I’m significantly more confused about higher education’s budget if $22 million can be found that quickly.”

Klaich, in an interview after the meeting, said this was not magic money.

“There was a strong statement from the committee that the students have shared enough,” Klaich said. “The message was that as we put the budget together, they don’t want us to look to students for more fee increases.”

He wasn’t sure where the extra money would come from; it could come in other operating cuts or one-time sources, like from taking money set aside for buildings, he said. The higher education system was still working on a full accounting of its reserve funds Friday, at the request of the Las Vegas Sun.

But the issue highlights a problem governments and agencies have: The public has a hard time believing them when they say they’re broke. That’s because for three years they’ve muddled along using creative budget gimmicks and sweeping bank accounts to spare the worst cuts.

That is ammunition for conservatives, who argue tax increases are unnecessary and predictions of the fiscal apocalypse are exaggerated.

Dale Erquiaga, senior adviser to Gov. Brian Sandoval, said the $22 million in higher education money is “all the more reason to stick with the governor’s plan (not to raise taxes) and trust higher education to do the right thing. They clearly have the ability.”

That’s not the only example where allegations were raised of game playing.

The governor has said schools can avoid layoffs if teachers agree to certain concessions equal to a pay cut of 11 percent.

A preliminary budget passed last week by the Clark County School Board figured that under Sandoval’s budget, 1,800 positions would be eliminated. Horsford sent out a news release stating, “Clark County to lay off over 1,800 teachers.”

Well, they aren’t all teachers and that number doesn’t represent actual people who will lose their jobs. Clark County School District lobbyist Joyce Haldeman said the number represents positions — many vacant — of educators, administration and support staff. About 900 are filled, mostly by teachers.

To be sure, the number is tentative and based on the questionable assumption that workers will agree to one furlough day a month and to pay more toward retirement and health care benefits.

No layoffs or 1,800 layoffs? No money or $22 million of magic money?

“We’re pretty far apart (with the governor’s office) in how we interpret where we are,” Haldeman said.

Skeptical lawmakers have heard this before.

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  1. You bet, there are the games of sleight of hand, smoke and mirrors, and voodoo economics. Makes you wonder about the REAL TRUE NUMBERS, when even at the school site level, budgets are submitted where it accounts for spending all of $26 for the whole school year 2011-2012 on "Parent Involvement."
    Wonder how loved and welcomed those parents feel there? Nothing will happen because not a single one of them KNOW, only the school staff. But this, my friends, is a small example of the a tight rope many are walking in this political budget game to balance their budget sheet with little to no real accountability to the public.

    Truth, honesty, integrity, all but have disappeared. People now KNOW their senior number and who is a threat at their site. It has come down to this. It took years to build the idea of working as teams towards a common goal, now, the common goal is survival for #1. Everyone is running scared, except for the Governor and his friends who are in the driver's seat for now.

    Some numbers can be moved from one catagory to another, and that accounts for some shifts. It is about priority and perspective.

    Dennis makes an excellent point.

  2. Dennis does it start with you? You who simply complains on a daily basis and offers no solution whatsoever?

  3. One subtext to this article that ought to be considered -- the problem inherent in a citizen legislature that meets every other year for only 4 months, leaving a lot of legislators who are very well intended utterly unprepared to master budget details before they have to make major decisions.

    Here's a bullet-point summary and explanation of the NSHE budget close,

    It still involves a cut of $60 million in state support for programs around the state and that is separate from the 4.8% cut in higher ed faculty and staff compensation and an even steeper increase in out of pocket expenses for health coverage for higher ed faculty and staff.

    As for the supposedly magic $22m, a careful reading of the background materials for the NSHE budget close hearing, publicly available here,
    shows in detail.

  4. shows in detail the extent of cuts in stare support and in instructional prgrams

  5. OK -- so maybe it's not 1800, but it's 900 teachers.
    My school losing just four. This isn't sleight of hand, Mr. Schwartz.

  6. Jeffy , I don't know about ever but for the last 20 years Nevada population grew by about 5000 per month . You would expect spending to rise . It's about money management . By simply using the power of bulk purchasing the state could get school supplies and equipment at considerable discounts .

  7. Why would CCSD lay off 1800 teachers? Teachers make up less than half of the employees in the district.

    As for the government being stone dry, give me a break. We spend $17 billion over the last biennium and you want me to believe there isn't a cent we wasted?

    Put the government check book online. Every penny that is spent toward anything including paper clips should be sorted in an online database for the people to review.

  8. The Republicans of this state (And the US) are great at finding/making/hiding money. It is what they do. The all mighty dollar is their deity and the source of their power. The wield it like sword and shield. With all their very important dollars they buy boats and SUV's and summer homes. They need to make themselves feel better about their arrogant and self righteous and frequently illegal business practices. They vote for bonuses for themselves when their companies are laying off hundreds of thousands of workers. They say things like "Deregulation helps us make more money and we pass that on to our employees in the form of new jobs and a stronger economy. Nothing gets passed on, ever.
    They like to use words like community and socialism like they are negative things that will only strip them of their precious dollars. We are all idealistic when we first get to school but we are told over and over again to make money, build business', become successful moguls. The weakest of all people (The Republicans) eventually realize money is only what they need and start hording and figuring out ways of cutting costs, raising income potential, changing ratios, charging interest and laying off people just to make more of it. They want to eliminate education and any programs intended to help anyone. Their idea of this world is dog eat dog. If you aren't rich, white and republican then you aren't worth anything.
    Everyone in this world makes a difference and is a vital piece of the system. Without undocumented workers who would do all the jobs the conservative Republicans refuse to do? If there were no inexpensive laborers in America a stick of gum would cost $10.00. You don't actually think the white collar microcosm would roll up their sleeves and pick cotton do you? We have a long history in America for saving money and getting what our greedy little hands want. When the conservative, wealthy land owners in the south needed cheap labor they enslaved an entire race of people, killed em off when they were not useful to them anymore and raped their women and children all to be more powerful and wealthy.
    Good luck putting together ANY program that costs a rich, white, conservative even a penny when it means that it will help anyone in need. Gary

  9. Accountability to the public will come when the public has to write a check to the school district every month. Until then, the public will perceive education as a "free" service and the administrators will feel they are free to do what ever they want without question.

    Here is the deal... we give you FREE education, breakfast, lunch and daycare and you don't ask questions.

    To the tax payers... we need more money and don't ask for clear accounting !!!

  10. To my fellow citizens: Government is out of control. It is too big, too intrusive and too wasteful.

    Governments of all size, regardless if it is your neighborhood HOA or the Feds, operate with impunity.

    They all preach they serve the public good but at what cost? We've reached the point where their "good intentions" have financially imprisoned us all. There is nothing we can do without a tax, a system of reporting and the government watching.

    Remember the saying "beware of the person bearing gifts". Government is luring us into exchanging their good intentioned services for our Freedom.

  11. Look at the money and lifestyle most of the people in government live. It's such a waste. They (government) want us to reward them for their failure. They use children and safety as scape goats!

  12. Good comment RickKorbel.

  13. "Why would CCSD lay off 1800 teachers? Teachers make up less than half of the employees in the district.

    As for the government being stone dry, give me a break. We spend $17 billion over the last biennium and you want me to believe there isn't a cent we wasted?

    Put the government check book online. Every penny that is spent toward anything including paper clips should be sorted in an online database for the people to review."

    Patrick! You finally made sense and you did not quote any studies! I know you can do it. Sometimes, you just have to talk like Patrick and not repeat what other people say.

    Yes. There is a lot of waste and SOMEBODY needs to have the guts to call it. Nobody listens to teachers. Someone up there needs to say it and do something about it.