Gibbons' stimulus aid plans questioned

CARSON CITY -- Assembly Speaker Barbara Buckley said Thursday that Gov. Jim Gibbons' amended plan to balance the state budget is illegal because he wants to use federal stimulus funds to cover costs of current full-day kindergarten.

"You can't use federal funding to supplant state funds," added Buckley, D-Las Vegas.

Her comments were echoed by Joyce Haldeman, a lobbyist for the Clark County School District.

Education funding from the federal stimulus package is supposed to supplement, not supplant states' education spending, she said.

But Daniel Burns, Gibbons' communications director, said the legality of using stimulus funds for full-day kindergarten was "double checked" and those funds can be used for 91 of the state's 114 full-day kindergarten classes.

In the other 23 classes, local school districts will have to decide whether to provide funds to keep their full-day programs, or switch to half-day programs, he said.

At the request of legislators, Gibbons released a revised budget plan at a Wednesday news conference to cover a new $900 million revenue shortfall.

"I have shown we can balance the state budget without raising taxes," Gibbons said.

Under his new plan, Gibbons would use $357 million in federal stimulus funds to cover costs of full-day kindergarten programs. The state would save $52 million by cutting out the 23 full-day kindergarten classes.

In addition, the governor proposes to take out a $160 million line of credit next year instead of this year and secure $340 million by adopting a controversial tobacco revenue asset sale plan supported by Lt. Gov. Brian Krolicki.

Buckley said she does not know when legislators will hear Gibbons' new budget plan.

But she said the Krolicki plan was withdrawn earlier this year at his request because it was not feasible.

Last year, Krolicki asserted his plan could raise $600 million. He wants to secure a large lump sum payment from a buyer who would receive the $45 million a year that Nevada now receives from a settlement with the tobacco industry. These funds have been dropping as fewer people smoke.

Buckley said it appears Gibbons is plugging a plan that would fetch pennies on the dollar.

Even before Gibbons submitted his new budget proposals, it was widely considered as dead on arrival since legislators already have done extensive modifications to the budget he submitted last January.

For example, Gibbons proposed a 6 percent salary cut for teachers and state employees, along with reductions in their health care policies.

A joint legislative budget committee on Monday cut the reduction to 4 percent for teachers and 4.6 percent for state employees.

A legislative committee today is expected to reduce the 36 percent cut sought by Gibbons in state payments to the Higher Education System of Nevada to 11 percent, a step that will cost more than $300 million.

Even the conservative Las Vegas think tank, the Nevada Public Research Institute, ridiculed Gibbons' new budget plan, saying he is trying to keep state spending at $6.1 billion when it should be $5.1 billion.

"His office is essentially claiming the need for expansive government, but whining about not wanting to pay for it," said Geoffrey Lawrence, an NPRI analyst. Assemblyman Ty Cobb, R-Reno, said he backs Gibbons' new plan because it balances the state budget without tax increases.

But he doubts it has much chance at "this tax and spend Legislature."

Cobb added that studies show children do not show permanent academic improvements with full-day kindergarten.

"All-day kindergarten is all-day kiddy care," Cobb said. "When everyone is cutting budgets we need to cut out full-day kindergarten."

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