CARSON CITY -- Democratic lawmakers on Wednesday voted to approve general fund spending on Nevada's colleges and universities by roughly $100 million more than Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval proposed in his original budget.
The spending plan for the Nevada System of Higher Education also included a recommendation that the Board of Regents increase tuition 13 percent, half the rate increase proposed by higher education officials.
Democratic lawmakers were unwilling to impose a 26 percent tuition increase over two years on students and instead demanded that Chancellor Dan Klaich find about $22 million more in savings to cover the difference.
"That is the imposition of a tax at a time when they can least likely afford it," said Assemblyman Marcus Conklin, D-Las Vegas, of the proposed larger tuition increase.
The education funding votes came during a joint meeting of the Senate Finance and Assembly Ways and Means committees.
Democrats were unwilling to accept the cuts proposed in Sandoval's higher education budget. They voted to spend about $100 million more from the general fund than Sandoval's original proposal of about $740 million. Sandoval later proposed adding back about $20 million, an amount Democrats included in their funding vote.
Also, Democrats planned to raise more than $80 million through tuition increases and additional savings.
However, they rejected a proposal from Sandoval to divert about $120 million in property tax revenue from Clark and Washoe counties to the University of Nevada, Las Vegas and the University of Nevada, Reno.
That left observers wondering how Democrats planned to cover the funding which, if not replaced, would leave them $21 million short of Sandoval's proposal.
"We are worse off than we were when we started," said Jim Richardson, a lobbyist for the Nevada Faculty Alliance.
Democratic committee members gave differing interpretations of the result.
Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford, D-Las Vegas, said lawmakers had not decided where they would find money to cover the rejected diversion or whether they would attempt to replace the entire amount.
"Those are still pending decisions," Horsford said.
Another member, state Sen. Sheila Leslie, D-Reno, said Democrats do intend to replace the money.
"My understanding is we are replacing that with general fund (money)," Leslie said.
Either way, Sandoval is expected to veto the proposal. The Republican promised to oppose tax and fee increases and proposed a $6.1 billion general fund budget to accomplish the task.
Democrats are pushing a $7 billion spending plan with fewer cuts, but so far don't have the two Assembly and three Senate Republican votes they need to form a two-thirds majority needed to increase taxes.
Contact reporter Benjamin Spillman at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-477-3861.