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Senate panel OKs education funding

CARSON CITY — Voting Friday for higher education funding, Senate Finance Committee members made it clear they’re unhappy with a 12.5 percent cut for Nevada’s state universities and colleges, even though it’s far below a 36 percent cut sought by Gov. Jim Gibbons.

Members voted for subcommittee recommendations that, if combined with possible tuition increases, could reduce the cut to about 10 percent.

Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford, D-North Las Vegas, said there must be "a real honest effort by all parties, including the business community, to find ways to help us address our revenue structure so we never have to cut this amount from higher education or K-12 again."

"The students that are in these programs believe in their future. They know what their life can be," Horsford said. "But they need the skills, tools and education to get there."

A core group of legislative leaders worked behind closed doors on the budget agreement, which brings the total spending plan for higher education to just under $1.2 billion, compared with Gibbons’ $844 million plan.

The lawmakers’ action pushes the state spending plan to just under $7 billion for the next two fiscal years. Gibbons proposed a $6.2 billion budget.

Senate Minority Leader Bill Raggio, R-Reno, said he reluctantly supported the school funding plan, saying higher education took a disproportionate cut compared with proposed plans for K-12 spending.

"All of education is important, not just K-12," Raggio said. "My concern is that we shortchanged higher education a little in this process. While they are both important, I feel like we have not achieved parity on funding between these two segments of education."

Sen. Bob Coffin, D-Las Vegas, was the only Finance Committee member to vote no on the spending plan.

"We have taken some steps to take on the problem of addressing the shortfall in funding but we really haven’t done all we could this session," Coffin said. "We’ve had resistance to rectifying this problem from the governor, who has refused to recognize the problem and has been an inactive participant in this process probably since 2007, when he decided what his line in the sand would be as far as funding."

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