Nevada higher education officials are putting their wish lists together for the next biennium, but what they are asking for might be difficult to grant.
A priority for most Silver State colleges and universities is the elimination of furloughs or unpaid days off for employees. In higher education, the furloughs apply to full-time staff, faculty and classified employees.
“For faculty, a restoration of pay is long overdue,” Maria Sheehan, president of Truckee Meadows Community College in Reno, said last week. “We have lost opportunities for faculty to join us and stay with us; they get jobs where there are no furloughs.”
This is the fourth year of salary reductions for state employees, leaders say. The Legislature during the previous biennium restored a 2.5 percent pay cut enacted in fiscal 2011 for all state employees at a cost of $50 million. But the 2.3 percent reduction enacted in fiscal 2010 through mandatory furloughs remains in effect.
The furloughs are saving the state about $20 million a year, according to Mary-Sarah Kinner, spokeswoman for Gov. Brian Sandoval.
“The decision to eliminate furlough days could be introduced as part of the budgeting process, which would be a decision for the governor and state Legislature,” she said.
The furloughs originally required employees to take 12 unpaid days off. In fiscal 2012, they were reduced to six, and the requirement was continued through fiscal year 2015, according to Kinner.
“There’s no question that the salary and benefits is a top priority on our list for the next biennium,” Gerry Bomotti, senior vice president for finance and business at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, said last week. Eliminating the furloughs at UNLV alone would cost about $3.8 million a year. For smaller campuses, like Nevada State College, it would be about $207,131 a year.
But what are the chances of the priority being addressed by the Legislature?
“I don’t really know at this point in time. As we get toward the end of this year, we’ll see how the state is doing,” Bomotti said. “The state is meeting its (revenue) target, but not by a lot. Not a lot of extra money. Obviously, that could change. It’s a lot of money to buy back the furloughs.”
Others, such as Michael Richards, president of the College of Southern Nevada, remain optimistic.
“It’s really early in the process, we’ll have several sessions with the Economic Forum,” he said. “Any guess at this point would just be that, a guess.”
Leaders say they understand that the state still has financial limitations, but the furloughs are the most important item on their priority list for budget requests.
“It’s a major financial and morale issue,” Richards said. The college doesn’t have an estimated amount for the elimination of furloughs yet.
Furloughs also create other challenges. Classified employees have less flexibility in taking furlough days, and more work goes into scheduling so it doesn’t affect the operation of the campuses too badly, officials said.
Other priorities include obtaining cost-of-living adjustments and changes to the Public Employees Benefits program. The benefits program went through changes in 2011 because of budget cuts, and the options and coverage were reduced.
Employees have two options. They can chose the High Deductible Consumer Driven Health Preferred Provider Option Plan or an HMO plan.
“Right now, that program is sort of a bare bones,” Richards said. “We would like to see our options improve for our employees.”
The institutions are establishing their budget priorities now for the Nevada System of Higher Education’s budget request. The Board of Regents will start budget discussions during its meeting in March, said Vic Redding, vice chancellor for finance at the Nevada System of Higher Education. The regents are expected in August to approve a final budget, which would have to be submitted to the governor’s office by Sept. 1.
The next legislative session starts Feb. 2, 2015.
Reporter Yesenia Amaro can be reached at (702) 383-0440, or firstname.lastname@example.org.