Possible cuts to benefits outlined

CARSON CITY -- A Nevada panel looking for ways to save money gave Gov. Jim Gibbons a report on Tuesday that suggests various steps, including major cuts in benefits to state workers and retirees, to save more than $600 million over five years.

Recommendations from the Nevada Spending and Government Efficiency, or SAGE, Commission include one to eliminate health care subsidies for all employees who retire after July 1 and cut subsidies to existing retirees by 50 percent over the next two years.

The panel also recommended that the state end subsidies for all retirees once they're eligible for Medicare at age 65. State employees now are eligible for $396 to $696 per month in health care subsidies. The average employee retires at age 60 and begins getting the subsidy.

Commission members also said health care benefits for state employees and their families should be cut so they mirror benefits offered by many private-sector companies; and retirement benefits for any state workers hired after next July should be reduced.

The proposals also call for a review of fees charged by agencies to ensure they cover the cost of providing services; and a detailed inventory of state-owned property and leased facilities.

Bruce James, who chairs the SAGE panel, said the state could save about $51 million the first year such steps are implemented, and over a five-year period could save more than $600 million.

Gibbons stated that he considered the report "extremely valuable" given Nevada's economic problems.

Jim Richardson, a lobbyist for the University Faculty Alliance, has called the proposals "draconian" and said they would prevent universities from recruiting professors.

Richardson said he hoped that Gibbons wouldn't include the recommendations in his budget for the next two fiscal years.

Richardson also said he doubted the Legislature, now controlled by Democrats, ultimately would approve the changes in the health care and retirement programs.