Posts Tagged ‘public education’

Lawmakers Long On Ideas, But Public Education Funding Options Remain Elusive

By Sean Whaley | 5:31 am September 18th, 2012

RENO – Northern Nevada state lawmakers and candidates in the November general election identified a number of public education priorities at a forum here Monday, from ending social promotion to paying the best performing teachers more to making much-needed capital improvements to older Washoe County schools.

But those participating in the event held at Reno High School at the invitation of the nonpartisan group Parent Leaders for Education had few specifics about where funding to implement the ideas will come from when the Legislature convenes next February.

Sen. Greg Brower, left, Assemblyman Pat Hickey, and former Sen. Sheila Leslie, far right, participated in a candidate forum in Reno on Monday. / Photo: Nevada News Bureau.

Those participating included Sen. Greg Brower, R-Reno, and former Sen. Sheila Leslie, a Democrat challenging Brower for the new District 15 seat. Sen. Ben Kieckhefer, R-Reno, who is not up for reelection, also participated, as did Assemblyman Pat Hickey, R-Reno, who is running unopposed for another term in District 25.

The panel was rounded out with two Assembly Democrats running for new terms and their Republican opponents. David Bobzien faces Heidi Waterman in District 24 and Teresa Benitez-Thompson faces Tom Taber in District 27.

Several of the participants identified the need to find revenue to repair and renovate the Washoe County School District’s older schools as the top priority for the delegation next year.

Kieckhefer said those studying the issue are seeking about $15 million to $20 million annually in revenue that could be used to make repairs to more than half of the district’s schools that are more than 30 years old and are in need of major repairs.

Brower said Washoe County lawmakers are working toward a solution to repair the county’s schools and sell the proposal to Southern Nevada lawmakers who will ultimately have to support any funding option.

“It will be the best investment I think we can make in our schools in Washoe County for decades to come,” he said.

Leslie issued a note of caution to those attending the forum, saying past experience has shown that even bipartisan priorities, such as finding revenue to repair older schools, can be derailed in a legislative session.

“And I don’t want to sound like a cynic, but I’ve been through it several times,” Leslie said. “And so I think meetings like this where you put people on the spot, and I’m willing to be put on the spot and tell you that I will vote for just about any revenue source I can think of right now, to improve our schools. But you need to put the pressure on all of us to make sure that we find a solution and we don’t get to the end of the session and say oops, sorry, can’t do that.”

Brower said he agrees with Gov. Brian Sandoval, who announced earlier this year that he will propose to extend a package of taxes now set to sunset on June 30, 2013, into the next two-year budget to ensure that there are no further budget reductions for public schools or higher education.

But Leslie said the Legislature needs to do more than maintain the status quo and instead find a way to restore the $123 million cut from Washoe County schools over the past five years. Nevada ranks poorly in many national rankings, including ranking 50th in the number of children who attend preschool, she said.

“So obviously we can’t cut any more but what we really need to do is find a way to put that money back,” she said.

Hickey said he does not believe that raising taxes to find more revenue for education is likely to see any serious consideration at the next session. An option he favors is to look at shifting money that now goes to corrections and health and human services to public education.

Spending more on public education now so that money doesn’t have to be spent later on prisons is a better investment in the long term, Hickey said. Even so, several neighboring states, including Utah and Arizona, spend less per pupil but perform better than Nevada, he said.

“It’s wiser to educate than incarcerate,” Hickey said. “So we do need to spend more, we do need to spend wisely, but money is not the entire answer.”

Bobzien, who served as chairman of the Assembly Education Committee in 2011, said a number of major reforms were passed in a bipartisan show of support. But those reforms won’t turn Nevada’s schools around over the long term without adequate financial support, he said.

Waterman said the findings of the Sage Commission, established by former Gov. Jim Gibbons to find ways to make state government more efficient, need to be considered by lawmakers. Eliminating duplicative programs could help find money for public education, she said.

Benitez-Thompson said specific policy proposals are fine, but lawmakers need to look at the overall funding challenges facing public education. Ending social promotion from the third to the fourth grade is fine, but there are costs involved when children are held back, she said. Those children will need additional assistance so they can succeed, Benitez-Thompson said.

Taber said teachers need to be given more control over their classrooms to help their students achieve. Funding also needs to be allocated with a business-oriented approach to ensure it is spent wisely, he said.

“Business sense is important,” Taber said.


Audio clips:

Sen. Greg Brower says finding a revenue source to repair older Washoe schools will be a worthwhile investment:

091712Brower :24 decades to come.”

Former Sen. Sheila Leslie says the Legislature needs to restore funding cut over the past several years, not just avoid further reductions:

091712Leslie1 :18 that money back.”



State Fiscal Constraints Holding Up Interim Studies Of Public Education, Retirement System

By Sean Whaley | 1:51 pm February 15th, 2012

CARSON CITY – The state of Nevada’s tough financial situation is holding up two separate interim studies approved by the Legislature because of the requirement for alternative funding sources to assist in conducting the reviews.

One is a study of the state Public Employees’ Retirement System and the other is a study of the funding formula now used for public education. Both studies require non-state funding, but proponents are having a hard time coming up with the money.

Typically there is state funding appropriated for interim studies by the Legislature. But the state’s difficult fiscal situation led to the imposition of the financial requirements for the two studies.

Retirement system review requires $250,000 in private cash up front

Gov. Brian Sandoval and lawmakers approved a study of the state public pension system with an eye towards evaluating the need for a change for future state and local government hires to a “defined contribution”  or some modified type of plan.

But the study outlined in Assembly Bill 405 requires a $250,000 contribution from the private sector to be secured before another $250,000 appropriation from the state could be used for such an assessment.

The private funding has been hard to come by.

Heidi Gansert, chief of staff to Sandoval, said other options are being explored by representatives of Nevada’s business community interested in such a review.

Sandoval Chief of Staff Heidi Gansert, right, with former budget director Andrew Clinger. / Nevada News Bureau file photo.

“They had to meet the $250,000 threshold before state funds would be released and so I think the issue was the level of funding required, private funding, versus getting some funding for it,” she said. “There may be some private sector folks that are still going to work on some form of study.

“My understanding is the $250,000 is too high of a threshold but they are looking at coming up with partial funding and maybe doing something on their own versus trying to meet that threshold to get the state funding,” Gansert said.

Sandoval favors a change to the retirement plan because of a concern about the potential taxpayer liability for the defined benefit plan that covers almost all state and local government employees. The long-term unfunded liability is estimated at about $10 billion, although some assessments using different measures put it at a much higher amount.

There has been a growing call nationally to move public pension plans to a state to a defined contribution plan, similar to a 401(k)-type plan, from the current defined benefit plan, where retirees are paid a set amount per month based on salary and years of service.

Sandoval has advocated such a position, although the concept did not see any serious discussion in the 2011 legislative session.

Nevada PERS officials say the plan is actuarially sound, and that the unfunded liability will be covered over time. They also note that the contribution rates required to keep the plan healthy are set by an independent actuary and are fully funded by the Legislature. The Legislature also made several changes to the existing PERS plan in 2009.

Public education study requires at least $125,000 to move forward

The legislative study looking at potentially new ways of funding public education was sought by the Clark County School District. But no state funding was provided for the review.

At the first meeting of the New Method for Funding Public Schools interim study in January, Clark County School District official Joyce Haldeman said $125,000 in anticipated funding from a private foundation to pay for a study would not be available.

The district is looking for other funding for the study.

Assemblyman Marcus Conklin, D-Las Vegas, the chairman of the interim study, gave the district until Feb. 21 to identify at least $125,000 for a study. The panel is scheduled to meet Feb. 28, but the meeting will be cancelled if no funding is secured.

The Clark County School District would like to see new factors included in the 45-year-old funding formula, such as additional financial weight given to educate special education students, English-language learners and children in poverty.

Questions have been raised as to whether either study is actually needed, however.

Geoffrey Lawrence, deputy director of policy for the Nevada Policy Research Institute, said in an interview in June, 2011, regarding the PERS unfunded liability that legislative studies do not typically generate change in subsequent legislative sessions.

And Assemblyman Ira Hansen, R-Sparks, a member of the public education interim study panel, asked for justification for the proposed review at the January meeting, noting a 2007 study by lawmakers identified no inequities in the Nevada Plan formula for public education.

After spending nearly $250,000, the conclusion was that the Nevada Plan was highly equitable, he said.


Audio clips:

Heidi Gansert, Gov. Brian Sandoval’s chief of staff, says the level of private funding required for the PERS study to go forward is too high:

021512Gansert1 :15 form of study.”

Gansert says business leaders may come up with a lower level of funding and conduct their own study:

021512Gansert2 :10 the state funding.”


Report Outlining Tax And Spending Decisions By 2011 Legislature Now Available

By Sean Whaley | 3:30 pm December 6th, 2011

CARSON CITY – A report outlining the actions taken by the 2011 Legislature to finalize Nevada’s two-year, $6.2 billion general fund operating budget that took effect July 1, including approval of $1.1 billion in additional revenues, has been published by the Legislative Counsel Bureau.

The Nevada state Senate in session, 2011. / Nevada News Bureau file photo.

Gov. Brian Sandoval initially proposed a $5.84 billion general fund budget that relied heavily on local government revenues to balance out, a decision that was later called into question in a Nevada Supreme Court decision.

The $6.2 billion general fund budget is actually less – but only by about $100 million – than the 2009-11 spending plan.

When all revenues are counted, including federal funding, the current two-year state budget totals $15.9 billion, down from $16.5 billion in the 2009-2011 budget.

The Nevada Legislative Appropriations Report for the 2012 and 2013 fiscal years summarizes the actions of the Legislature in funding public education, corrections and other agency budgets. Prepared by the Fiscal Analysis Division, it also contains sections on tax revenues.

The final spending plan was augmented by revenue increases totaling nearly $1.1 billion over the 2009-11 budget, with $513 million of the total going to the general fund and $556 million to public education.

Sandoval’s original budget did not propose to continue a number of tax increases approved by the 2009 Legislature that were to sunset on June 30, 2011. But in an agreement with lawmakers late in the session, the tax sunsets were removed for two more years to help balance the budget.

The agreement came after the Nevada Supreme Court ruled that $62 million taken from a Clark County water fund in the 2010 special session to help balance the previous budget was unconstitutional. This ruling raised doubts about the legality of a number of proposals in Sandoval’s budget to use local tax revenues to help balance the state budget.

The bipartisan agreement to extend the taxes for two more years came as part of an overall deal to approve major reforms to public education and public employee benefits.

One of the major pieces of the tax agreement was to keep the tax rate for the modified business levy at 1.17 percent of wages, bringing in $237 million over two years. The first $250,000 in wages was completely exempted from the tax, however, as a break to Nevada small businesses.

Another $283 million is being generated by maintaining a 0.35 percent sales tax increase for the current two-year budget to help support public education.

The report shows that 37.5 percent of the general fund budget is directed to public education, down from 39.9 percent in the previous budget. Higher education is receiving 15.3 percent of the total, up from 15.2 percent in the previous budget. Human resources spending totals 31.2 percent, up from 29.1 percent in 2009-2011. The remaining 16 percent is divided among other agencies, including corrections, public safety and the constitutional offices.

The report also shows a reduction in the number of state positions. In fiscal year 2011, which ended June 30, there were 18,431 approved positions in state government, not including the higher education system. For the current year, the number of approved positions is 17,856, a reduction of 575 jobs.

The Nevada System of Higher Education saw a bigger percentage decline, from 7,166 professional and classified jobs in 2011 to 6,789 positions this year, a reduction of 377 jobs.

Party-Line Votes On Public Education Funding Create $700 Million Hole In Budget

By Sean Whaley | 5:11 pm May 3rd, 2011

CARSON CITY – Legislative Democrats went ahead today with their own funding plan for public education, establishing a level of spending that puts the budget at significant odds with GOP Gov. Brian Sandoval and his opposition to new taxes.

The votes by Democrats have upped the ante in the budget dispute with Republicans, creating a hole estimated at $700 million by state Budget Director Andrew Clinger.

A party-line vote not to use school district bond reserve funds to cover school operating costs as proposed by Sandoval created a $247 million hole in the budget with no revenue to cover it. Another vote against a 5 percent cut in teacher pay added another nearly $260 million to the hole.

Republican members of the money committees issued a statement after the votes, saying the funding restorations they proposed, similar to Sandoval’s, were reasonable and would have protected children from larger class sizes.

“Unfortunately, Democratic leadership rejected this reasonable proposal to protect students and instead increased funding beyond current projections without any indication of which taxpayers will be forced to foot the bill,” the lawmakers said.

Democrats had a different view.

“I have said every day since the beginning of the session that, as a parent and legislator, I will not vote to gut education,” said Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford, D-Las Vegas. “I did not get into public service to rob the children of Nevada of the opportunity to succeed. Today, we closed the (public education budget) at an acceptable level. Our young students deserve no less.”

Lawmakers of both parties voted in unison on some significant cuts to public education, however, including a proposal to require teachers and other school district public employees to pay a share of their retirement contribution. The proposal, which would have to be worked out in negotiations with teacher and other employee unions at the school district level, would save $100 million a year.

The budget votes came at a joint meeting of the Senate Finance and Assembly Ways and Means committees. The votes followed testimony from representatives of the Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce and the Nevada Resort Association asking for a discussion on the potential for additional tax revenues for the state budget in concert with meaningful policy reforms.

Reforms sought by the chamber include changes to the state’s collective bargaining process and efforts to address the long-term unfunded liability of the public employees’ retirement system, issues which have not seen any significant action in the 2011 legislative session.

The votes also came after Sandoval administration officials presented a plan for $247 million in additional spending for public education as a result of higher tax revenue projections set by the Economic Forum on Monday.

The “add backs” presented by Chief of Staff Heidi Gansert and Clinger would restore all funding for all-day kindergarten and the class-size reduction program for the lower elementary grades. It would also add $223 million to the basic pupil support, but it would not eliminate proposed cuts to teacher salaries.

State Budget Director Andrew Clinger and Sandoval Chief of Staff Heidi Gansert testify before a joint budget committee on education funding today/Photo: Andrew Doughman, Nevada News Bureau

By proposing new spending on the public schools budget above that available based on the Economic Forum projections, Democrats now will have to either take money from other programs and services or find new revenue. A number of tax proposals under consideration by Democrats are expected to come up at a hearing Thursday, including a tax on some services and an extension of some of the tax increases approved in 2009 but set to sunset on June 30.

Sandoval has rejected any suggestion of increasing taxes or fees to balance what is now a $6.1 billion general fund budget after the Economic Forum identified $218 million in increased tax revenues.

Sandoval spoke to state residents at 6 p.m. today, presenting his views on the ongoing budget debate with Democrats, who do not have the votes to increase taxes without support from some Republican lawmakers. He reiterated the need for education reform and his opposition to any new taxes.

Longtime lobbyist and Sandoval adviser Pete Ernaut, who attended the public education discussion, said it and the televised remarks from the governor mark “the first day” of the “real” legislative session.

In his public testimony, Billy Vassiliadis, representing the Nevada Resort Association, asked for policy makers and business and community leaders to engage in a discussion on ways to increase funding to the state budget while at the same time ensuring improved student performance.

Nevada Resort Association Billy Vassiliadis testifies before the Legislature on education funding today/Photo: Andrew Doughman, Nevada News Bureau

“And so one of the decisions you have to make, all of you and the governor has to make, is where do we go going forward,” Vassiliadis said. “While we appreciate very much the discussion of restoration of cuts, but we’re restoring to what? We’re restoring to being 45th in the best case, 49th in the worst case, in education funding?

“But my clients really want to know, what are we going to do, what are you as state leaders going to do, and the governor going to do, to actually put us on a track where our education system can not only benefit from the recovery but actually make the recovery go faster, and all Nevada students and future Nevada businesses will want to move here and take advantage of a great state,” he said.

Sandoval’s unwavering position is that any tax increase could slow job creation and Nevada’s economic recovery.

Sandoval’s position saw some support today from the conservative Keystone Corporation, which issued a press release criticizing the Las Vegas chamber for advocating for an extension of the payroll tax increase approved by the 2009 Legislature to balance the current budget.

That tax increase, which included a tax cut for small business, is set to expire June 30. Sandoval wants to continue the tax cut for small business.

Keystone put out a political update today saying: “The Las Vegas Chamber is leading the fight to extend the 100 percent increase of payroll tax (Modified Business Tax) they championed last session set to sunset this year. Make no mistake this is a tax on Nevada job creators that will prevent businesses from creating new jobs and stimulating our economy.”

The joint budget hearing went through a series of votes, some getting unanimous support from the two panels because they were part of the restorations proposed by Sandoval.

But others generated party-line disputes, including a motion by Horsford not to use $247 million in school district debt reserves to fund public education operating costs.

Democrats said using the bond reserve money would go against the wishes of voters who supported school construction questions at the ballot.

But Assemblyman Pat Hickey, R-Reno, said he could not support the motion without some indication of where the money would come from to pay for the policy change.

There was also some criticism of the committee process from Sen. Barbara Cegavske, R-Las Vegas, who said members received only about 24 hours notice of the meeting. She also questioned why the governor’s add backs were not on the table for discussion.

“If you want to work this as a process where we’re all working together, then let’s do it together, let’s not do it in segmented forms, and one entity pushing the whole cart,” she said.

Audio clips:

Billy Vassiliadis, representing the Nevada Resort Association, says additional funding for education good, but won’t raise Nevada in comparison to other states:

050311Vassiliadis :23 in education funding.”

Vassiliadis says public education needs to be part of Nevada’s economic recovery:

050311Vassiliadis2 :23 a great state.”

Sen. Barbara Cegavske, R-Las Vegas, criticizes the public education budget process:

050311Cegavske :12 the whole cart.”


Nevada Budget Gets Funding Boost From Economic Forum, Democrats Say It Isn’t Enough

By Sean Whaley | 8:21 pm May 2nd, 2011

CARSON CITY – Work on closing Nevada’s two-year $6 billion general fund budget will begin in earnest tomorrow after the Economic Forum today finalized its tax revenue projections for the coming two years.

But legislative Democrats and Gov. Brian Sandoval remain far apart on an acceptable spending plan even with a $218 million general fund revenue increase.

The Senate and Assembly money committees have scheduled a joint meeting Tuesday to consider the contentious public education budget now that the tax revenue picture is clear.

At a briefing after the Economic Forum completed its work, legislative Democrats said they will finalize their funding recommendations for public schools at the joint hearing at levels beyond the new forum estimates and beyond what Sandoval has proposed, setting up a showdown over the budget.

Identifying new revenues to fill any resulting funding gap remains a work in progress for Democrats, however.

Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford, D-Las Vegas, welcomed the news of the enhanced revenue that totals about $274 million, but said it is not enough to fill all the gaps that remain in the budget.

“It is our responsibility as elected officials to lead, and our responsibility to pass a budget that meets our obligations to our students, seniors and to all Nevadans,” he said. “The governor’s budged did not do that yesterday and it does not do that today.”

Other Democrats agreed.

“That’s simply not acceptable,” Assembly Ways and Means Chairwoman Debbie Smith, D-Sparks, said of the level of funding in the public schools budget. “So tomorrow, we will move to close those budgets at an acceptable level.”

Sandoval said in a statement the state economy is too fragile to consider higher taxes: “We must, however, realize that while today’s news is welcome, our state’s economy is still fragile. As the Legislature continues to close budgets, it is of the utmost importance to maintain our business-friendly climate to help foster job growth and put our fellow Nevadans back to work.”

The Economic Forum, a panel of private-sector fiscal experts, raised the outlook for most of the state’s tax revenues after an all-day hearing, with the notable exception of gaming. When all was said and done, the general fund will see just under $218 million in new revenue for the next two years.

Because the panel upped the projection for the state share of the sales tax, the schools share of the tax will also benefit by about $113 million. With a reduction due to property tax calculations, the total new funding is $274 million available to Sandoval and lawmakers as they work to finalize a budget for the two fiscal years beginning July 1.

Sandoval said he wants all of the new funding to go to the public education budget.

Democrats in the Legislature say that the additional revenue is inadequate to fund necessary services for the next two years, leaving Sandoval and Republican lawmakers at odds with their Democrat counterparts.

Democrats do not have the votes, however, to raise taxes without support from Republican lawmakers. It requires a two-thirds vote to raise taxes and to override a veto from the governor.

Sandoval will address the state on television at 6 p.m. tomorrow to make the case for support of his budget with the enhanced revenues. Sandoval has vowed to veto any funding plan that requires new taxes or fees.

Complicating the budget dispute is the time element. The Legislature must adjourn its 120-day session by June 6.

Democrats will soon have to introduce a tax plan in order to fully fund the K-12 budget they will propose tomorrow.

Even with today’s revised projections, the gap between what Democrats want and what the governor proposes is about $1 billion just for the K-12 budget.

Horsford said the first order of business is to finalize the budget and determine what level of new spending is required, but the clock is ticking on a revenue plan. If Democrats can muster support for a tax increase, any such measure would have to be passed by the end of the month in order to have time to override a Sandoval veto.

 Audio clips:

Assemblywoman Debbie Smith says the public education budget will be finalized at an acceptable level:

050211Smith :07 acceptable level, thank-you.”

Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford says Sandoval budget remains inadequate even with additional tax revenues:

050211Horsford :15 do that today.”

Senate Debate On Gov. Sandoval’s Public Schools Budget Sees No Vote, Fireworks

By Sean Whaley | 4:29 pm April 20th, 2011

CARSON CITY – The debate over Gov. Brian Sandoval’s proposed cuts to public education shifted to the state Senate today, with members of the upper house getting the details of the reductions that the Clark County schools chief said would mean the loss of $400 million for a 19 percent cut in funding.

But there was no effort by Democrats, who control the Senate with a narrow 11-10 advantage, to force a vote on the schools budget as occurred yesterday in a more contentious Assembly hearing. There were no fireworks either.

The Senate heard from a number of school officials talking about the effects of the cuts proposed in Sandoval’s budget, as well as a defense of the plan from Chief of Staff Heidi Gansert and Budget Director Andrew Clinger.

Sen. Steven Horsford watches as Sandoval Chief of Staff Heidi Gansert and Budget Director Andrew Clinger testify in the Senate today./Photo: Nevada News Bureau

State Budget Director Andrew Clinger and Chief of Staff Heidi Gansert testify in the Senate today as Sen. Steven Horsford watches./Photo: Nevada News Bureau

Clark schools chief Dwight Jones said that if the teachers union does not agree to benefit concessions the district is looking at layoffs of 2,500 to 3,000 employees. Class sizes would also likely increase, by three students in elementary grades and two students in the secondary grades, he said. The textbook and supplies budget would likely see a 50 percent cut as well.

Jones acknowledged, however, that the tough economic conditions facing the state have proved to be an impetus to make reforms to the delivery of education in the district.

Gansert reiterated the Sandoval position that new taxes are not an option for the upcoming two-year budget because of the need to let the economy recover and for Nevada businesses to begin adding jobs.

She noted that the most recent unemployment report for March showed job growth for the first time in 37 months.

Gansert also defended the use of more than $300 million in school district bond reserve funds to fund operating costs for schools, a controversial element of Sandoval’s spending plan for public education. The proposal was put forward to avoid even more severe cuts to public education, she said.

Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford, D-Las Vegas, started the proceedings for the Committee of the Whole by saying bringing the details of the public education budget to the full Senate is critical to reaching a compromise on spending. He rejected a suggestion that the hearings are a “farce.”

Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford presides over the Committee of the Whole discussion on public education today/Photo: Nevada News Bureau

“Some in the Legislature have characterized these Committee of the Whole proceedings as a dog and pony show or a farce intended to politically embarrass members of this body,” he said. “Nothing could be further from the truth. The Committee of the Whole in the Senate is about serious business of the state of Nevada that must be resolved.”

Horsford said he cannot accept the education cuts proposed in Sandoval’s two-year, $5.8 billion general fund budget, and that he is willing to compromise. There is no question that any budget approved by the Legislature will include severe cuts to all areas of spending, he said.

“I am prepared to stay here as long as it takes, but I would prefer that we meet our constitutional deadline of passing a budget by June 6,” Horsford said. “That means we must begin working together now to find the common ground and compromises that will allow that to happen.”

In a briefing after the administration presentation, Gansert and Dale Erquiaga, senior adviser to Sandoval, reiterated the governor’s positions on the education budget and taxes.

“We were very careful in putting this budget together, we believe it is sound and it is reasonable,” Gansert said. “We made extra efforts to mitigate the cuts or make them as small as possible to education because that is a priority of the governor’s.”

Erquiaga said that while the administration is interested in reforms sought by Assembly Republicans in such areas as collective bargaining and the prevailing wage, that those issues must be considered on their own merits.

“He certainly welcomes a conversation about reforms, but we need to have a conversation about reforms in this state based on the merits of that proposal, not horse trading,” he said.

The actual level of funding remains a point of contention between Democrats in the Legislature and the Sandoval administration. Democrats say some elements of the proposal are budget cuts, with the governor’s staff disagreeing with the characterization.

Information prepared by legislative fiscal staff provided to lawmakers shows more than $1 billion proposed “major reductions” to school districts. These numbers come from a variety of sources:

  • $600 million from freezing teachers’ pay increases, reducing salaries by 5 percent and making teachers contribute more to their retirement plans.
  • $238 million from the governor’s direct reductions to state support for public schools.
  • $221 million of room tax money continues to shift from supporting schools to the state general fund, as it does in the current budget.

The Senate hearing was more subdued that the marathon session in the Assembly that lasted more than six hours Tuesday. The Assembly session deteriorated later in the evening with accusations and complaints levied by members of the lower house at each other.

In the end, Republicans and Democrats remained firmly entrenched in their positions, with the 16 GOP members supporting Sandoval’s budget recommendations and the 26 Democrats seeking some compromise that would require some form of as yet unidentified tax increase.

The Legislature is scheduled to adjourn on June 6.

Audio clips:

Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford says Committee of the Whole meetings are way to find compromise on budget:

042011Horsford1 :26 must be resolved.”

Horsford says budget compromise will require acting like adults:

042011Horsford2 :29 and trying circumstances.”

Horsford says he will stay in Carson City as long as it takes to find compromise on public school funding:

042011Horsford3 :19 that to happen.”

Clark County schools chief Dwight Jones says Sandoval’s budget means a 19 percent cut:

042011Jones :24 about our work.”

Sandoval Chief of Staff Heidi Gansert says every effort was made to minimize cuts to public education;

042011Gansert :13 of the governor’s.”

Sandoval Senior Adviser Dale Erquiaga says a discussion of reforms is welcome, but not as a trade off for tax hikes:

042011Erquiaga :15 not horse trading.”



Gov. Sandoval Says His Policy Proposals Should Be Considered On Own Merits

By Sean Whaley | 12:41 pm April 12th, 2011

CARSON CITY – Gov. Brian Sandoval said today the Legislature should take up the policy initiatives he has proposed in his budget and State of the State address based on their own merits, and not be used in trade for negotiations on fee or tax increases.

“I am hopeful the Legislature will consider all legislation based on its merits,” he said. “There are education issues, there is economic development. As I said I think it is important and beneficial to the people of Nevada that each of these issues be considered on their own merits and not be traded.”

Sandoval, who reiterated comments he made at a speech in Las Vegas last week, said he will not budge on his position of opposing any tax or fee increases to balance his $5.8 billion general fund spending plan. This includes proposals heard by lawmakers last week to hike liquor and cigarette taxes.

Sandoval said he understands the arguments some lawmakers are making for raising “sin” taxes to generate more revenue for the budget, but that he will not support any such efforts.

Sandoval’s comments remained unchanged from those made in a speech to the conservative Keystone Corporation when he said taxes would not be traded for any other legislative objectives.

He said today no Republican lawmakers have come to him and asked that there be some discussion of fee and tax increases in exchange for agreement with Democrats on reforms to Nevada’s collective bargaining law, or to the public pension system, or other areas of concern to the GOP and some business groups.

Some Republican lawmakers would have to join with Democrats if tax increases were to be part of the 2011-13 budget. Democrats do not have the two-thirds majority needed to raise taxes or override a Sandoval veto.

Sandoval’s policy proposals are getting their day in the Legislature.

The Senate Legislative Operations and Elections Committee today will take up some proposed reforms to the state’s collective bargain law, as well as consider a constitutional amendment that would allow for the creation of a voucher school program for Nevada children to attend private schools, including religious schools. These are both issues Sandoval and some Republican lawmakers are supporting.

On Monday, some of Sandoval’s reforms for public education, including the elimination of social promotion of pupils, were also heard by lawmakers.

Sandoval said he is “cautiously optimistic” that the Economic Forum will on May 2 increase its revenue estimate for the budget. If it does so, Sandoval said he would like any additional tax dollars to go to public education.

Sandoval also said he is confused by the decision made by the Board of Regents on Friday to put the possibility of campus closures back on the table as a way to balance the Nevada System of Higher Education budget.

“Well I’m confused because the Board of Regents first indicated they weren’t going to close any campuses, and then at the meeting last Friday they switched course,” he said. “That is a decision that is within the purview of the Board of Regents but I don’t understand why they took one policy decision and then have taken another.”

Audio clips:

Gov. Brian Sandoval says his policy proposals deserve to be considered on their own merits:

041211Sandoval1 :15 not be traded.”

Sandoval says any additional revenues identified by Economic Forum should go to public education:

041211Sandoval2 :21 to the DSA.”

Sandoval says he is confused by Regents’ decision to put campus closures back on table as one way to deal with budget reductions:

041211Sandoval3 :27 have taken another.”

Lawmakers, Governor at Odds Over Budget Plan

By Sean Whaley | 7:07 pm February 22nd, 2010

CARSON CITY – Gov. Jim Gibbons is sticking with much of his plan on how to find $890 million to balance the state budget even as lawmakers continue to question the viability of some elements, including $50 million in additional mining revenues and $30 million from an automobile insurance verification program using highway cameras.

The plan was altered today after several new revenue sources were identified that allowed Gibbons to eliminate a proposed $35.7 million reduction in public teacher salaries.

But Robin Reedy, chief of staff to Gibbons, said the vast majority of the governor’s plan remains intact as the way to balance the budget.

“We’ve worked up through Saturday with various members of the Legislature,” she said after making comments to the Legislature’s Interim Finance Committee. “We have yet to see a list from them of what is good so we’ve not taken anything off ours.”

One other change to Gibbons’ plan provoked some strong exchanges between Reedy and lawmakers. Taken off the table are three fee increases initially proposed by Gibbons: $1.1 million in state park hikes, $550,000 for the cost of restaurant inspections and $337,000 to obtain state vital records.

Some lawmakers questioned the removal of the fee increases, including Assembly Speaker Barbara Buckley, D-Las Vegas, who said the proposals were appropriate to free up general fund money to offset 10 percent cuts to education and state agencies.

Buckley said the Gibbons administration appears to be inconsistent on the issue of fees, with support for some increases but opposition to others, and suggested politics are at play.

“The governor gets beat up on the campaign trail or from the right wing about the mining deductions and all of a sudden we see vital records and consumer health fees being yanked,” Buckley said.

Reedy said the governor’s tax and fee policies are not based on politics.

“If the people who are being assessed agree to the fee or the tax, he will do it,” she said.”I think that is consistent.”

The questioning about the change of course on the fees also prompted Senate Minority Leader Bill Raggio, R-Reno, to forcefully tell Reedy that he would direct any questions to administration officials he believed were appropriate.

The comment came after Reedy suggested that the repeated questioning on the governor’s tax and fee policy was not productive.

The exchanges came as the 26th special session of the Nevada Legislature is set to being tomorrow to find ways to close the nearly $990 million gap in the current two-year budget.

The proposal to use traffic cameras to identify uninsured drivers to generate $30 million in the second year of the budget was called “wacky” by Buckley.

Raggio continued to question the constitutionality of the proposal to reduce the allowable deductions on the net proceeds of minerals tax to generate $50 million to the state. If the proposals cannot be accomplished or are rejected by the Legislative majority there is at least an $80 million hole in Gibbons’ budget balancing plan.

Beginning the special session without firm agreement could mean for several days of discussions before the budget is finally balanced.

Some lawmakers also questioned the claim made by Gibbons today that when all funding for public education is counted, including local support, the actual cut for the state’s schools is only 2.4 percent. The comment came in a press release from Gibbons announcing the identification of enough new revenues to eliminate his proposed 1.75 percent teacher pay cut.

The 10 percent cut being proposed by Gibbons for public education is only on the state share of the tax support.

Some lawmakers suggested the change to include local funding would only confuse and mislead the public.

But Reedy said calling the reduction to public education a 10 percent cut was disingenuous and a “scare tactic.”

Audit Finds Over $2M in Questionable Purchases and Spending in State Education Department Program

By Sean Whaley | 1:49 pm November 5th, 2009
CARSON CITY – An audit of a $92 million grant program created to improve student achievement in the public schools has identified numerous concerns, from inappropriate purchases to purchases that were made prior to approval by the Nevada Department of Education.

The innovation and prevention of remediation program was created by the 2005 Legislature, and the legislative audit reviewed the first two years of funding in Fiscal Years 2006 and 2007.

The audit, reviewed today by the Legislative Commission’s Audit Subcommittee, found $580,000 in expenditures by schools and school districts that were not authorized by a panel created to review the grant requests. One example was the Clark County School District’s purchase in 2006 of a $200,000 educational software program, a type of purchase specifically not authorized by the review panel, the Commission on Educational Excellence. No payback was sought by the department.

The audit also found $5.1 million in grant funds spent by schools and school districts prior to receiving approval for the expenditures from the commission.

In some cases, items rejected by the commission were amended back into grants by schools and school districts and subsequently received funding.

Schools also did not return unused funds in a timely manner, resulting in $45,000 in lost interest earnings that could have been earned by the Department of Education. Returned money also was not always deposited timely by the Education Department. In one case, the Washoe County School District returned $735,000 in unspent funds in August 2007, but the check was not deposited by the agency until December 2007.

The audit also determined that there was inadequate tracking of purchased items. Auditors could not find 6 percent of the items sought out in the review worth $170,000.

Other issues were also identified in the 47-page audit.

The audit covered the first two years of the program when $81 million of the fund was spent by school districts and schools over two years. The program was continued in the last budget, but no funding was appropriated for the program in the current budget.

Keith Rheault, superintendent of public instruction for the Education Department, acknowledged the many issues cited in the audit. Sixteen recommendations from auditors were accepted by the agency to fix the concerns if funding is provided again in future budgets by the Legislature.

Rheault told the legislative panel many of the problems occurred in the first round of funding due to the rush to get the money to the schools. Many of the concerns were corrected in the 2008 and 2009 funding cycle, he said.

In his official response to the audit, Rheault also noted that no additional staffing was provided to handle the new grant program. A request for additional positions in the 2007 legislative session was not funded.