CARSON CITY — Assembly Democratic leaders said Thursday they cannot support Gov. Jim Gibbons’ $6.8 billion budget until he agrees to increase public school spending at the same rate he has proposed for higher education.
Assembly Speaker Barbara Buckley and Ways and Means Chairman Morse Arberry, both D-Las Vegas, said Gibbons has shortchanged kindergarten- through 12th-grade spending and must support increases that are fair for all state agencies.
“It is not to say the increases in higher education are bad,” Buckley said. “But you have to make the increases fair across the board.”
Health and Human Services Chairwoman Sheila Leslie, D-Reno, said a $78 million Medicaid caseload savings identified by the administration Wednesday should be given to public school education if legislative fiscal analysts determine “the savings is real.”
Arberry wrote Gibbons letters on April 5 and April 10 in which he said the governor’s public school education spending proposal was “totally out of whack.” He said Gibbons included only $13 million for new public school programs, compared with $52 million for higher education and $99 million for human services.
In his budget request, Gibbons proposed two-year spending of $2.27 billion for public schools and $1.34 billion for higher education.
Considering the ratio between public schools and higher education, Gibbons would have to add about $75 million for new public school programs to satisfy what Democrats want.
Buckley has proposed spending about that much money over the next two years to establish full-day kindergarten programs in elementary schools across the state.
That allocation is not in Gibbons’ proposed budget.
Democrats in both houses have spoken out against Gibbons’ plan to end a $60 million teacher incentive program and use the money to establish 100 empowerment schools.
Under the empowerment school concept, principals are given more control over school operations.
The impasse between Gibbons and Democrats will not likely be resolved until just before the scheduled June 4 adjournment of the Legislature.
Democrats hold a 27-15 edge in the Assembly, so an agreement would be needed to pass any education spending bills.
Brent Boynton, Gibbons’ communication director, said he does not know why the Democrats are complaining.
“The governor is providing more funds than ever for K-12, and K-12 was immune from reductions in budget enhancements,” Boynton said
In his budget, Gibbons proposed increasing public school spending by $300 million and higher education spending by $190 million.
But Arberry, in his letters, said almost all of those increases went to cover inflation, salary increases, utility cost increases and additional enrollment — not for new programs to improve education performance.
“We have to do what we can,” Arberry said Thursday. “We cannot keep shortchanging (public school) education.”
Assembly Minority Leader Garn Mabey, R-Las Vegas, said the Democrats’ request for parity between public school and higher education increases “make sense to me.”
But he said the jockeying between the sides is part of the process and will work itself out in coming weeks.
“I think there will be more full-day kindergarten (classes) for kids and empowerment schools,” Mabey said. “It is not going to be full-day kindergarten for everyone.”
Both Leslie and Buckley said they are skeptical that the $78 million in savings Gibbons’ staff said they expect from Medicaid caseload reductions will materialize.
The administration has assumed that the number of senior citizens needing Medicaid will drop, and Buckley said that seems unlikely to her.
Budget Director Andrew Clinger expects higher education will lose $40 million because of budge cuts and a decline in student fees.
At the same time, he said, the Gibbons administration is adding $81 million to the public school budget to make up a loss in local sales tax revenue.
By law, the state must make up any losses when revenue from local school sales taxes falls below projections.2007