Prison cuts

The Nevada Prison Commission — a three-member board comprising the governor, attorney general and secretary of state — oversees the state Corrections Department. Simply rubber-stamping every move by department executives would render the panel pointless.

But it’s hard to understand what Secretary of State Ross Miller was up to Tuesday when he clashed with prisons Director Howard Skolnik over budget cuts.

Like all state agencies, Mr. Skolnik’s department must deal with the state’s revenue shortfall. Already, the prison system has delayed tens of millions of dollars in construction projects and closed two entire facilities. A proposal to close Nevada State Prison, the 146-year-old facility in Carson City, remains on the table.

The reality is, however, that more needs to be done, and Mr. Skolnik must still trim an additional 2.9 percent.

So at Tuesday’s Prison Commission meeting, Mr. Skolnik unveiled a proposal to eliminate a “shift differential” bonus for corrections officers who work the swing shift. Such workers receive a 5 percent add-on to their salary, supposedly designed to compensate them for the hardship of having to work odd hours. The move would save $700,000 this year.

Mr. Miller, though, objected to the plan and asked for a delay in the approval of the cuts until his board gets more information on other options.

We’ll give Mr. Miller the benefit of the doubt here and assume he’s simply exercising his watchdog function, rather than offering yet another example of a Nevada Democrat trying to protect public employees from feeling the state’s budget pinch.

But what is it that Mr. Miller proposes? He offered little of substance on Tuesday.

“Seriously, we’re out of options,” Mr. Skolnik said.

The department should move forward with its budget adjustments — including elimination of the “shift differential” — and urge Mr. Miller to offer more concrete alternatives for the future.

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