Pay cuts may limit job losses

CARSON CITY — Gov. Jim Gibbons predicted Tuesday that only a small number of state employees will be laid off if legislators approve the 6 percent salary cuts he will propose at 6 p.m. Thursday in his televised State of the State address.

Gibbons confirmed he is recommending the salary cuts for state employees, teachers, and university and community college professors, and support employees.

Details will be contained in the 2009-10 and 2010-11 fiscal year budget that the governor will release Thursday morning.

He also said he will recommend that legislators approve the cuts in health care, retirement and other benefits proposed by his Spending and Government Efficiency Commission.

“If it is up to me, we will avoid layoffs,” said Gibbons, who is willing to take a cut from his $141,000 a year salary. “Whether we are in a recession or a depression doesn’t matter. There will be a recovery. We are preparing this economy for that recovery.”

Gibbons added that citizens will see he is proposing a smaller but more efficient state bureaucracy that provides the services Nevadans really need.

The 120-day 2009 legislative session opens Feb. 2.

If the salary and benefit cuts are backed by the Legislature, state Budget Director Andrew Clinger said, there will be only a limited number of layoffs.

He could not give an exact figure but said the layoffs will result only because the governor wants to consolidate operations of some agencies.

After the special legislative session in December, the Gibbons administration said only 35 state employees were laid off in 2008, although the governor and legislators cut planned spending by $1.5 billion.

To avoid additional badgering by the news media Tuesday, Clinger acknowledged that Gibbons will propose a two-year general fund budget of slightly more than $6 billion, about 12 percent less than the $6.8 billion spending plan approved by the Legislature in June 2007.

But Gibbons said that is significantly less than the $8.04 billion in spending the state needs to keep services at the levels projected when the current budget was approved.

The state director of the liberal-leaning Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada questioned whether even Republican lawmakers will pay attention to what Gibbons says.

“A leader is anyone who has followers,” said Bob Fulkerson, whose organization recommended Monday that the Legislature increase taxes by $900 million a year. “Who is following the governor? Nobody. Therefore, he is indeed irrelevant.”

But Gibbons said Tuesday that he did not think he hurt his standing with Republicans by his public dispute over the holidays with Republican Lt. Gov. Brian Krolicki.

The governor accused Krolicki of lying when he said he did not receive the application in time of Kirk Montero, a Reno airlines manager whom Gibbons appointed as director of the state Tourism Commission.

Gibbons reiterated Tuesday that he made the appointment because the job has been vacant for four months and someone must lead a vital state agency during the recession.

Tourism Commission members rescinded the appointment, contending a state law requires Gibbons to appoint the director from their three top applicants.

Commissioners have not yet submitted the three finalists for the job.

Gibbons did hurt himself politically in the Krolicki matter, said Eric Herzik, political science professor at the University of Nevada, Reno.

But the governor cannot be blamed for the recession and his pledge not to raise taxes without the support of voters is a smart move politically, said Herzik, who expressed doubt that Gibbons will run for re-election in 2010.

The 2009 session is one in which Democrats must put up or shut up, Herzik said.

He noted Democrats now hold a 28-14 veto-proof advantage in the Assembly and a 12-9 edge in the Senate. They no longer can blame Gibbons if they cannot push the agenda they favor into law, Herzik said.

Assembly Speaker Barbara Buckley, D-Las Vegas, widely considered as a possible Democratic candidate for governor, must show she can work with Republicans and produce results, he added.

Buckley will deliver the Democratic response to Gibbons’ address Thursday.

The speaker last week decried Gibbons’ plan to cut salaries by 6 percent and also mentioned she is concerned that Gibbons might propose four-day work weeks, even in the schools.

Buckley, however, was upbeat about legislators of both parties reaching compromise on the state’s budget problems.

Republican senators such as Bill Raggio, Randolph Townsend and Mike McGinness could be persuaded to side with Democrats on spending issues to avoid a collapse of education and other programs, Herzik said.

But Democrats must be willing to take a moderate approach and give a little to Republicans, he added.

“Either we are in for one partisan session or one in which you will find an amazing bipartisan effort,” he concluded.

Contact reporter Ed Vogel at evogel@reviewjournal.com or 775-687-3901.

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