Tax hikes, borrowing and a bailout will fix everything, the state's higher education chief said Monday.
Jim Rogers, chancellor of the Nevada System of Higher Education, pitched a $3 billion federal bailout of state government Monday, saying the money is deserved and needed.
He reiterated his call for a 25 percent tuition hike, a tax increase on mining, the elimination of tax loopholes for new businesses, the issuing of up to $700 million in state bonds, help from local governments and the selling off of the state's share of the tobacco fund. That's in addition to a business income tax, an idea Rogers has touted for months.
All of which is designed to overcome what's expected to be a $1.5 billion shortfall in the state's budget over the next two years.
Gov. Jim Gibbons, with whom Rogers has feuded over proposed cuts, issued a statement in response.
Gibbons did not directly address Rogers' call for federal aid, but noted that he asked for a federal stimulus package for the states late last month. As proposed, the package would help fund unemployment benefits, Medicaid and job creation through public construction projects.
Rogers' plan is simpler.
"I want a check," he said of his $3 billion request. "Send me a check."
Rogers said the money, if it's ever obtained, could be spread throughout state government. He does not propose keeping it all for higher education.
He first proposed the idea to Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., the Senate majority leader.
"Sounds good to me," Rogers reported the senator as saying.
Reid spokesman Jon Summers confirmed that the two men had a conversation about trying to secure federal funds to help the state but said no amount was discussed. Reid supports the idea and wants to help make it happen.
"What we do now is start on the staff level to iron out what the legislation might look like to get that money, identify what the needs are and the best way to go about meeting them," Summers said. "The dollar amount is something that's still up for discussion."
Rogers, quoting U.S. Census Bureau numbers, said Nevada receives only 70 cents back from the federal government for every dollar its residents pay in federal income tax.
He noted that Nevada wouldn't be alone in seeking such a bailout. He proposed that the federal government offer similar bailouts to all states that are seeing double-digit declines in revenue.
Rogers proposed raising tuition at the state's colleges and universities by 25 percent, which he said would still keep the state's schools among the most affordable. UNLV's tuition is about $4,200 a year for a Nevada resident.
A 25 percent increase, Rogers said, would raise about $50 million per year.
Key to the increase, Rogers said, is a change in the rules. In the past, money raised from tuition hikes has gone to the state, not directly to the universities. He wants to change that so the money goes directly to the schools.
Rogers has the support of the student body presidents in that part of the plan.
Rogers discussed the tuition increase and his other proposals last week with Gibbons. Dollar figures for the rest of them are up in the air, though Rogers claims support from prominent state legislators.
Assembly Speaker Barbara Buckley, D-Las Vegas, said she supports some of Rogers' ideas, such as examining tax loopholes and seeking federal help. She opposes others, such as tobacco fund securitization. In general, she said she welcomed the chancellor's aggressive moves to spark discussion on budget issues. Buckley has had about 10 town halls across the state seeking citizen input on the shortfall.
"I don't agree with every one of his suggestions, but I'm glad he's thinking about it and making suggestions," Buckley said. "We need more people coming up with ideas rather than the alternative, which is simply saying no to everything."
He offered few specifics, saying he is better at big-picture issues.
Rogers did acknowledge that the plan to ask county governments to help community colleges probably won't be enacted any time soon.
He also noted that the plan to sell off the state's share of the tobacco settlement isn't likely to get any takers. While it might have gone for $600 million a couple of years ago, nobody will want it now; the economy is too lousy.
Reporter Molly Ball contributed to this report. Contact reporter Richard Lake at email@example.com or 702-383-0307.