Advocacy groups decry cuts

Valerie Soto on Wednesday offered up her 3-year-old daughter, Yvette Diaz, as an example of who would be hurt by further state budget cuts.

“She has autism,” Soto told about 75 people gathered under the blistering afternoon sun at the Sawyer Building. “Previous cuts delayed services for special needs kids. Additional cuts would have devastating effects and hurt the most vulnerable.”

Soto joined members of several advocacy groups representing children, families and seniors for a 20-minute rally held to send a message to Gov. Jim Gibbons and state legislators.

That message: Underfunded schools and programs for seniors, the disabled and others cannot afford more budget cuts, and Nevada must instead find a way to raise additional revenue.

“Any further cuts to education will harm us so badly in Clark County and across this state that we cannot endure at all,” said Carolyn Edwards, a member of the board for the Clark County School District.

“We are a wounded animal right now, and we need an infusion. Instead of an infusion, they’re looking to split us open.”

Lawmakers are looking for ways to cut state spending by $250 million or more. That is on top of $913 million in cuts already made in the current 2007-09 budget, bringing the total cutbacks to nearly $1.2 billion.

Gibbons said Wednesday that he will not recommend delaying 4 percent cost-of-living, or COLA, raises for teachers and state workers when he announces his plan on television tonight to balance the state budget.

The governor said the COLA issue can still be taken up by lawmakers if they choose to do so.

Clark County School Board members are expected to decide today whether to ratify a contract with teachers that includes the cost-of-living increase.

When told Gibbons would not recommend COLA cuts, Edwards said: “I would love to take him at his word. But he’s changed his mind on a lot of things.”

Gibbons has called a three-day special legislative session, to begin Friday, to look at where the latest cuts can be made. The advocates argued for raising money instead.

“Although many of us are feeling the bite of this economic downturn, there are industries out there that are doing quite well,” said Launce Rake, spokesman for the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada.

“They’re raking in billions of dollars in profits in mining, big box retailers. To those folks, we’re saying, they can step up to the plate. They can help out.”

Nevada already ranks among the worst states in the nation for its per-pupil school funding, percentage of uninsured children and programs for seniors and the disabled, Rake said.

“We have cut and cut and cut again, and we’re down to the bone.”

Mark Nichols, executive director of Nevada’s chapter of the National Association of Social Workers, said the state’s “fundamentally flawed” tax system has led to the budget crisis and must be reformed.

“Nevada is not spending too much money,” Nichols said. “Nevada is in fact a wealthy state. But we are not a very caring or generous state.”

Nichols said the state generates inadequate revenue to support education and human services needs, taxes poor people at higher rates than very wealthy residents, and relies too heavily on sales and gaming tax revenues.

Nichols said, “We never asked, ‘Well, what if the tourists don’t come?’ “

Also participating in Wednesday’s rally were members of the Nevada State Education Association, Nevadans for Quality Education, Every Child Matters in Nevada, Nevada Institute for Children’s Research and Policy, and AARP Nevada.

Some legislators have said the state’s shortfall might be worse than the $250 million figure estimated last week by the Economic Forum. The group of private business leaders determines how much tax revenue is available for state government to spend.

The special legislative session is coming at a time when state unemployment has reached 6.2 percent, the highest in 14 years.

Also, total state tax revenues have declined compared with the previous year for the first time in at least 30 years.

Contact reporter Lynnette Curtis at lcurtis@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0285.

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