Education budget plan still in limbo


CARSON CITY -- The discussion over cuts to the state's higher education systems remained deadlocked along party lines Friday after hearings in both houses of the Legislature.

The Senate and the Assembly separately reviewed several proposals to cut $162 million from the Nevada System of Higher Education as proposed by Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval.

Chancellor Dan Klaich said the cuts would mean weakening the system and turning away students.

"I'm afraid they won't be able to break a cycle of poverty," he said. "It kills me to say that."

He also said cutting state support to higher education only will "worsen and prolong Nevada's recession."

Klaich presented legislators with a four-point plan that he said would hopefully mitigate potential higher ed cuts.

Because of Sandoval's cuts, the Board of Regents has proposed cutting 2,313 courses and 46 academic degrees, The board also anticipates an enrollment reduction of 8,000, or 11 percent, and a faculty reduction of 1,100, or 15 percent.

The chancellor proposed that the colleges and universities make $50 million in total cuts and that tuition be raised by 13 percent in each of the next two years. Klaich estimated that the fee and tuition increases will garner the state between $40 million and $50 million in revenue, and the amount depends on how many students may be alienated by the cost increase.

Klaich asked the legislators to allocate about $100 million more to higher education and said if cuts must be made, legislators should make them equal in each of the next two years.

"Where do we find $100 million? What else do we cut?" Sen. Michael Roberson, R-Las Vegas, asked.

Klaich responded frankly: "Bring in additional revenue into the budget discussion. Allow the sunsets to extend."

Those "sunsets" are the $800 million in sales, business and car registration taxes that are scheduled to expire after June 30.

That answer wasn't what Republicans wanted to hear. They remain united behind Sandoval's budget cuts and opposition to any tax increases, including the extension of temporary taxes. The governor has said he'll veto any tax increases, and the Democrats don't have the votes to override a veto without Republican support.

Klaich's arguments were undermined in the Senate hearing by Regent Ron Knecht, a conservative Republican and former Assemblyman from Carson City.

Knecht said state support to education is up 86 percent since 2000, while personal income is up only 65 percent.

Even with the worst recession in state history, Knecht said, total higher education revenue has increased by 4 percent since 2008.

At the same time, he said, personal income has dropped 6 percent.

In an interview after the hearing, Knecht said he was not trying to undercut Klaich. Instead, he said, he was trying to point out that the university system has not suffered as much as Nevada residents.

He also said the $162 million in cuts proposed by Sandoval are "real," and he backs the four-point plan offered by Klaich.

Regents, however, have not recommended tax increases, and Knecht prefers the $100 million be obtained through additional cuts on other sectors of state government.

Senate Majority Leader Steve Horsford, D-Las Vegas, expressed concern about 13 percent annual tuition increases, saying that a $1,500-a-year increase in tuition would pose a hardship on poor students.

But Senate Minority Leader Mike McGinness, R-Fallon, complained that Horsford had cut Knecht off from making complete answers and was not taking Republicans' questions.

"We've been digging with a shovel," said Assemblywoman Teresa Benitez-Thompson, D-Reno. "With this budget, we're digging with a backhoe."

Assembly Republicans took non-binding votes in favor of the funding reduction, proposed layoffs and allowing a property tax diversion in Clark and Washoe counties to expire.

Some Republicans broke rank on how those cuts should look, showing distaste for tuition hikes and campus closures.

In the end, the Legislature will decide how much money the system gets, and the Board of Regents will decide which programs and services are cut.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. Contact Capital Bureau Chief Ed Vogel at evogel@reviewjournal.com or 775-687-3900.

 

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