Forum attendees offer budget salves

Instead of slashing and cutting its way out of a deepening budget crisis, Nevada should implement a state lottery or introduce new taxes so that the state doesn't rank so poorly in education, crime and health measurements, according to people who met with Assembly Speaker Barbara Buckley on Monday.

The Las Vegas Democrat was hosting the first of several open forums on revamping how Nevada collects and spends its revenue, with a goal of softening the "boom-bust" cycles of the state's economy.

"When times are good, the Legislature spends a little bit of money on a lot of things, and we're good at nothing," Buckley said. "Then, in the bad times, we tear it all down.

"We must overhaul the way we run state government."

More than 100 people gathered at Spring Valley High School in southwest Las Vegas to listen to her ideas and offer some of their own.

One of the most popular suggestions was enacting a state lottery, particularly if the revenue was directed at a specific function, such as education. Both a gross receipts tax on businesses and a state income tax came up several times.

Valley resident Denise Kelly brought the house down, though, with a call for excise taxes on gold, silver, platinum and uranium mining.

"That's something you can get done," she said to Buckley, offering a colorful suggestion for what to do "if that mining bunch doesn't like it."

Buckley has already outlined her ideas, which include collecting past-due taxes, curtailing tax abatements and exemptions, beefing up the state's rainy day fund, maximizing federal matching funds and partnering with the Bureau of Land Management to spur solar and wind power development on public lands.

Most of her presentation, though, chronicled Nevada's many woes: 47th in the nation for per-pupil spending and student-teacher ratios, 49th in higher education spending, 50th in child immunizations and near the bottom for people with health insurance. The boom-bust cycle compounds those problems, she argued.

So far, more than $400 million in state funds has been cut from K-12 and higher education, prisons, parole and probation, and health and human services.

That means, for instance, that prison education programs are cut, which in turn makes unskilled inmates likely to get in trouble again when released. The state also needs teachers and nurses, but universities can't offer enough classes to train them.

And not only does the $113 million cut from health services hurt disabled people and seniors, it also reduces by $45 million the amount of matching money collected from the federal government.

"It's a double whammy," Buckley said.

Contact reporter Alan Choate at or 702-229-6435.