Gibbons releases hit list, seeks to cut education by 10 percent

CARSON CITY -- Gov. Jim Gibbons proposes cutting the budgets of public schools and higher education by 10 percent in a list of reductions he released Wednesday to legislators and the news media.

But the cuts add up to only $418 million, according to Chief of Staff Robin Reedy, and the state needs to reduce spending by $881.4 million over the next 16 months to balance the budget.

"We are still working on it," Reedy said after she left a three-hour, closed-door meeting with legislators. "We are squeezing the bottom of the barrel."

The list, which has yet to be approved by legislators, calls for laying off 234 workers and eliminating 362 unfilled positions that previously were funded.

It proposes closing the 140-year-old Nevada State Prison in Carson City, closing the Summit View Youth Correctional Center in Las Vegas, reducing spending for mental health programs and care for disabled people and eliminating the Nevada Equal Rights Commission.

Also on the list is eliminating the assistant to the first lady, noting that the office of the first lady "will be vacant," a reference to the pending divorce of Gibbons and Dawn Gibbons.

There are plans to scale back nuclear waste litigation, presumably in response to White House moves to kill the Yucca Mountain Project.

Most state agencies are being asked to take 10 percent budget cuts.

There are no salary cuts in the initial list, but Gibbons said previously that the state would save $180 million by reducing workers' pay by 6 percent.

"This is an incredibly dire situation," said Assembly Speaker Barbara Buckley, D-Las Vegas.

She said the public does not yet understand how terrible an economic situation state government faces because of declining tax revenue.

If all 16,000 state workers were laid off, Buckley said, officials still would need to find another $300 million to balance the state budget. That does not include public school or higher education system workers.

"We have to balance the state budget," Buckley said. "This is not Washington, D.C."

In his State of the State speech, which will be given at 6 p.m. Monday, Gibbons will outline how he proposes to reach $881.4 million in cuts between March and June 30, 2011, the end of the state's two-year budget cycle.

State Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford, D-Las Vegas, then will deliver the Democratic Party's response.

The governor also will announce during the Monday speech when he will call the Legislature into a special session to approve spending cuts.

Buckley said Gibbons has not given legislators the dates for the special session, but it probably will be held Feb. 22-23.

Stacy Woodbury, deputy chief of staff to Gibbons, said layoff notices have been sent to state workers. A 30-day notice is required.

"These are very ugly options," Horsford said about the governor's cut list. "A lot of people are going to get hurt from this."

Because Gibbons' list of cuts doesn't even cover half of the need, Horsford said, a chance still exists that state employee pay could be reduced, maybe by as much as 15 percent.

But Horsford added he wants to see as few layoffs as possible because they would contribute to the state's already high unemployment rate, now 13 percent. The state also would have to pay the costs of unemployment for laid-off workers, he said.

Horsford said the Legislature will hold public hearings on the cuts and make some of its own suggestions for reductions. The meetings include today's and next Tuesday's Interim Finance Committee meetings, at which public comment will be accepted.

Ruben Murrillo, president of the Clark County Education Association, said Wednesday that his group is encouraging its approximately 12,800 members to attend these and other legislative meetings to express their views.

"If they are going to have open testimony, we are going to encourage our members to attend," he said.

Review-Journal writer Benjamin Spillman contributed to this report. Contact Capital Bureau Chief Ed Vogel at or 775-687-3901.