Lawmakers asked for it, and they got an earful Saturday of testimony from members of the public who begged them not to cut education and health care as they struggle to balance the budget.
Schoolteachers, state workers and parents of disabled children testified that the cuts proposed by Gov. Jim Gibbons would do lasting harm.
Although a few voiced the view that raising taxes wasn’t the solution, many more said they were willing to pitch in by paying taxes on their incomes and businesses to protect government services.
Over the course of four hours, state legislators heard more than 100 people’s comments on the budget situation at the Sawyer Building. The town hall-style hearing chaired by state Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford and Assemblyman Morse Arberry, both D-Las Vegas, was intended to allow regular citizens to have a say in the fiscal process as lawmakers try to patch a $2.3 billion shortfall between the funding needed to maintain services and the amount that’s coming in from taxes.
The state already has made cuts to doctors’ Medicare payments. Anna Arnold of Henderson testified that that has made it harder for kids like her 16-year-old son Kegan, paralyzed in an accident in 2004, to get the specialized care they require.
“I plead with you to reverse these cuts and make it affordable for doctors to treat our children,” she said.
Several parents brought children with them in wheelchairs or on crutches. Elizabeth Grabo, whose 10-year-old son has autism and physical disabilities, said the boy went months between doses of needed growth hormones when his endocrinologist stopped taking Medicaid and he had to wait to see the only other pediatric endocrinologist in Southern Nevada.
“They’re doctors, they’re not missionaries,” she said. “They didn’t take a vow of poverty. As you struggle with these decisions, please remember that Tyler is struggling with basic mobility and communication. … I think your job is a lot easier.”
Doctors and other care providers testified about their situation, as did teachers, college students and parents.
Georgeann Ray, a member of a Northwest Valley parents’ group, said funding K-12 education is vital to the economy because it creates an educated workforce. Programs such as arts and vocational training, that often are first on the chopping block, are the only things keeping many students from dropping out, she said.
State workers, many of whom showed up in matching union T-shirts, said they’ve worked for decades counting on the pay and retirement benefits they were promised. They said they would not survive if retirement was scaled back, as recommended by the Spending and Government Efficiency Commission, or if their pay is reduced 6 percent and health care costs increased, as the governor proposed in his budget.
Ty Weinert, a Las Vegas restaurateur and parent, said she believes her mother’s death in October at the age of 54 was hastened by Medicare cuts. Because of the cuts, she said, a neurologist refused to treat her mother’s multiple sclerosis.
“Any additional cuts to Medicare is life or death for other folks,” she said. “I am willing to pay income tax. I come from a state where I paid income tax. You get what you pay for.”
Not everyone who turned out to testify was a believer in the need for government funding. Cathryn Adams of North Las Vegas told the panel she believes government-subsidized immunizations made her grandson sick and that “bigger government is causing these problems.”
“Big government has put many people in our education system that we’d all be better off without, for example those who push and facilitate abortion and irresponsible lifestyles,” she said.
Victor Joecks of the Nevada Policy Research Institute, a think tank that favors reducing the size of government and lowering taxes, said despite all the talk of cuts, the state’s total spending is actually rising. “Nevada needs to prioritize spending, use tools like performance audits and live within its means,” he said.
Horsford said after the hearing that it was a valuable opportunity to hear the voices of ordinary citizens.
Horsford said the hearing would help him and others make up their minds what state services must not be cut and which ones can be reduced. Once those priorities are set, he said, legislators will see if revenue needs to be increased through tax hikes to maintain the needed services. He denied that Democrats already are secretly determined to raise taxes, as the governor has charged.
In addition to Horsford and Arberry, the hearing was attended by Assembly Speaker Barbara Buckley, state Sen. Joyce Woodhouse and Assembly members Barbara Buckley, Mo Denis, Joe Hogan, Ruben Kihuen, Marilyn Kirkpatrick and Peggy Pierce, all Democrats, and Assemblyman Lynn Stewart, the lone Republican.
All legislators were invited to the hearing, Horsford said.
In Reno, five Democrats and three Republicans, including state Senate Minority Leader Bill Raggio and Assembly Minority Leader Heidi Gansert, attended a parallel hearing that drew about 60 to testify, said Assemblywoman Sheila Leslie, D-Reno, a co-chair of the Northern Nevada forum.