CARSON CITY — A long list of budget cuts, mostly in human services and prison funding, was approved Thursday by Nevada legislators dealing with a projected revenue shortfall of nearly $1.2 billion this fiscal year.
The $52 million in cuts approved by the legislative Interim Finance Committee are part of $275 million in reductions authorized during a June 27 special session. Remaining cuts will be made at later sessions.
“It’s making us really look like we’re the grim reapers to come here and make all these cuts,” said Assemblyman Morse Arberry, D-Las Vegas, finance committee chairman.
Arberry added that he hopes the state’s economy turns around, noting that Gov. Jim Gibbons is considering major budget reductions in the next two-year budget cycle, which starts in July 2009, because of fears of another huge revenue shortfall in that period.
State Sen. Bob Coffin, D-Las Vegas, said lawmakers should challenge Gibbons, a first-term Republican who has repeatedly refused to consider higher taxes to help cope with the shortfall. Coffin suggested some type of temporary taxes.
“If you just rubber-stamp what a governor does, you have abrogated your duties,” said Coffin, adding that the budgets being cut “were built with a lot of thought — and they were taken down with no thought.”
The cuts in operating budgets approved Thursday average just over 3 percent. For the coming two-year budget cycle, the governor has told agencies to develop plans for cuts as high as 14 percent.
The latest cuts in state funds include about $31 million from state Health and Human Services Department programs. That figure almost doubles because of a resulting loss of federal matching funds for programs such as welfare and Medicaid services.
An additional $9.4 million was cut from the state Corrections Department budget for the current fiscal year. About half of that money will be saved by delaying a major prison construction project and by closing a prison camp east of Carson City.
Besides the agency budget cuts, a change in Public Employee Benefits Program budgeting will save more than $24 million in state general fund money.