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Lawmakers seek agreement on cuts

CARSON CITY — Key Democratic and Republican legislators expressed hope Monday that they can reach agreement before next week’s special legislative session on proposals to cut $60 million to $90 million in state spending and leave intact a 4 percent salary increase due state employees and teachers on July 1.

A bipartisan agreement on cuts is necessary to prevent Monday’s special session from drifting into chaos and accomplishing nothing, Sen. Bob Beers, R-Las Vegas, said.

“If we go in without an agreement, we will have theatrics,” Beers said. “We could be there three weeks without reaching an agreement.”

Assembly Speaker Barbara Buckley, D-Las Vegas, said she agrees with Beers’ analysis for a change.

“If we don’t have a consensus, we will sit there for days wasting taxpayer dollars,” she said.

Gov. Jim Gibbons announced Friday he will call the Legislature into special session for no more than five days starting June 23. Once the session begins, however, legislators can meet indefinitely.

Gibbons will wait until later in the week before he issues an official proclamation scheduling the special session and the items he wants legislators to consider, according to Ben Kieckhefer, the governor’s press secretary.

In anticipation of the special session, Gibbons has called for a meeting Friday of the state Economic Forum, the group of five business leaders who forecast revenue available for state spending.

Although forum forecasts made before and during the legislative session are binding on legislators and the governor, any projections on the state shortfall made in the Friday meeting are not.

But Josh Hicks, Gibbons’ lawyer, said it is important to have the Economic Forum’s analysis just before the special session convenes.

“These are very confident individuals,” Hicks said. “I would think the Legislature would want to see what they say.”

Nevertheless, four of the five members of the commission are new and will be attending their first meeting.

The governor called for the special session, despite telling at least some legislators earlier last week that one was not needed and he had no intention of postponing the pay increases.

But Republican Senate Majority Leader Bill Raggio, R-Reno, who initially opposed the special session, announced Friday he would support the governor’s call.

Raggio said he spoke with legislative analysts Thursday and was told the state could not make across the board cuts of 2 percent without laying off employees. A 2 percent cut across the board will save about $64 million.

As a result, the majority leader asked legislator attorneys to draw up a bill to postpone the salary increase for one year. The postponement would save the state $130 million.

Kieckhefer added Gibbons intends to make a statewide television address on the need for the special session later in the week.,

Though Gibbons will offer some suggestions on where legislators might cut spending, Kieckhefer said, he would welcome proposals from legislators.

“We want to leave everything on the table,” he said. “We are in a situation where noting should go unconsidered.”

Beers said he and a group of Republicans have come up with a proposal that would keep the pay increases in effect and still cut enough to balance the budget and prevent layoffs.

“It would involve giving the governor more discretion,” Beers said. “He would not have to make across-the-board cuts. One agency could be cut more than others.”

He declined to be more specific, adding he wants to show the plan to Democratic leaders.

Buckley said she has spoken with about half of her members and has scheduled a 5:30 p.m. Wednesday meeting in Las Vegas with the entire Democratic caucus.

They already have developed a number of proposals, which she declined to disclose, that they hope will win Republican favor. Buckley added she wants to review any Republican proposals that would leave the pay increase in effect and not result in employee layoffs.

“We have to balance our budget without hurting the state,” she added. “I think we have a short-term economic problem that we can handle without harming the school districts.”

In particular, she opposes postponing the 4 percent increase because of its adverse effect on teachers.

Lynn Warne, president of the Nevada State Education Association, said her association would sue school districts if they could not find the money to cover the negotiated 4 percent increases.

“If the Legislature rescinds the increases, the school districts would be on the hook. There would be a breach of contract if they didn’t find the money. These are negotiated contracts.”

But Warne was optimistic.

“I am encouraged that they are working together to come to some agreement,” she said.

Review-Journal Capital Bureau writer Sean Whaley contributed to this report. Contact Review-Journal Capital Bureau chief Ed Vogel at evogel@reviewjournal.com or 775-687-3901.

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