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Nevada lawmakers work to fill huge budget gap

Updated July 9, 2020 - 8:20 pm

CARSON CITY — Lawmakers spent the second day of a special session Thursday continuing their review of proposed spending cuts needed to fill a projected $1.2 billion hole in the state budget, focusing again on agencies whose combined spending rollbacks make up the largest share of the cuts.

The Legislature late Wednesday released a line-by-line accounting of agency cuts totaling just over $532 million, a figure that represents nearly 12 percent of the appropriations the Legislature approved in the 2019 session to cover the fiscal year that began July 1.

Of that amount, the largest burden is borne by the Department of Health and Human Services, which is facing a reduction of $233 million, including cuts and money transferred to other accounts. Of that, more than $140 million represents changes to Medicaid, including reductions in rates paid to health care providers and elimination of services the federal government categorizes as optional.

Those items, as outlined in the spending cut summary, include dental services for adults, prosthetics, behavioral health case management, optometry, private duty nursing, basic skills training for adults, occupational therapy, bariatric surgery, psychosocial rehabilitation, chiropractic, podiatry and biofeedback/neurotherapy services.

At the end of a day of hearings on the department’s budget Thursday in the Assembly, Speaker Jason Frierson asked department Director Richard Whitley if he could prioritize programs that might be cut to guide lawmakers in minimizing “the harm that may be caused with these cuts.”

Whitley said preserving Medicaid services was the priority but added: “We don’t invest adequately in health care, so these reductions — they’re all essential services.”

All of the health agency’s divisions face cuts, to be achieved by freezing caseloads, reducing services and grants, and not filling more than 170 vacancies. Some cuts will be made up by federal pandemic aid under the CARES Act.

Education cuts, positions cut

The Department of Education faces a $163 million cut that includes $18 million for class-size reduction, $71 million in New Nevada Plan funding, $31 million in the Read by Grade 3 program and $6 million in state pre-kindergarten programs.

The $109.6 million in cuts to higher education include $29 million to the University of Nevada, Las Vegas; $20 million to the University of Nevada, Reno; $12.6 million combined to their medical schools; $16 million to the College of Southern Nevada; $6 million to Truckee Meadows Community College and $2.4 million to Western Nevada College.

More than 80 unfilled positions are slated to be cut across agencies, with 33 more layoffs. Among the eliminated positions are 21 positions in parole and probation within the Department of Public Safety. The Department of Taxation will see 23 positions cut and 23 layoffs as part of a $4.2 million cutback.

The Department of Corrections will cut $3.6 million by deferring the return of 100 out-of-state prisoners and not staffing perimeter watchtowers at prisons during daylight hours.

Part of the nearly $4 million reduction at the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources is $1.3 million for wildfire suppression, to be offset by additional federal funds and relying on spare equipment. The secretary of state’s office will cut $3.3 million in part by reducing automatic voter registration program costs and election expenses.

The $3.2 million in cuts to divisions and programs directly under the governor’s office include reductions in STEM challenge grants and graduate medical education grants and leaving three internal auditor positions vacant.

Among the entities not slated for general fund cuts are the departments of Motor Vehicles and Transportation and the Legislature.

Through the first two days of special session, lawmakers have heard presentations on proposed cuts and asked questions ahead of making difficult decisions on which cuts to implement and how, or whether, to seek new revenues. Speaking late in the day, Gov. Steve Sisolak pushed back on criticism that he wasn’t doing enough to press lawmakers on raising revenue, most like through taxes, and reiterated the need for bipartisan support for such a move.

“It takes a Republican vote in the Senate to say they support revenue increases,” he said. “They all have my phone number. Nobody has called since this has been brought up. Nobody has come and said here’s my proposal to raise more revenue. I have to be realistic. We couldn’t raise revenue in the last session. Raising it in a special assessment session is not going to be any easier.”

Contact Capitol Bureau reporter Bill Dentzer at bdentzer@reviewjournal.com. Follow @DentzerNews on Twitter.

State of Nevada proposed agency cuts by Las Vegas Review-Journal on Scribd

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