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Budget gap down to about $30M
by Sandra Chereb - Associated Press Writer
Feb 27, 2010 | 907 views | 0 0 comments | 7 7 recommendations | email to a friend | print
CARSON CITY — Nevada lawmakers and Gov. Jim Gibbons continued closed door budget negotiations Saturday, trying to reconcile limiting cuts to public schools and higher education with new ways to pay for it and still plug a nearly $900 million budget shortfall.

After a meeting with legislative leaders at midday, Gibbons said, “We’re still apart, but not that far. We’re inching our way closer.”

Gibbons estimated $10 million to $30 million in differences remained. Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford, D-North Las Vegas, estimated the gap at $40 million.

Saturday marked the fifth day of a special legislative session that Gibbons called to address the state’s fiscal crisis. After $100,000 for the first day, the session is costing taxpayers $50,000 each day after.

The governor and legislative leaders from both political parties were meeting again late Saturday.

Sticking points remain education and revenue. Gibbons, a first-term Republican governor facing a June 8 primary, is a staunch no new tax proponent who has said he will veto any new revenues not endorsed by those who pay them.

He had proposed roughly 10 percent budget cuts for most state agencies, a move school administrators have said would lead to thousands of teacher layoffs. University and college officials argue similar cuts to higher education would mean eliminating programs, higher tuition, and possibly closing campuses.

On the revenue side, Democratic lawmakers want added fees from mining and the casino industry, but casinos have balked at $35 million lawmakers want to pay regulatory agency costs.

State employees, meanwhile, were given a slight reprieve when the Assembly amended a Senate bill removing an extension of monthly furloughs. SB3 establishes four-day, 10-hour work weeks for most state agencies. The original bill also extended monthly furloughs that began July 1 from 8 hours to 10.

But Assembly Speaker Barbara Buckley, D-Las Vegas, said $6.8 million was found during budget talks to remove the furlough extension.

“State employees have taken the largest cuts of any other public employees in the state,” Buckley said. The furloughs last year amounted to a 4.6 percent pay cut, and the added hours, combined with higher insurance premiums and retirement contributions, would have equated to an 11 percent cut.

The passed nearly unanimously and was forwarded back to the Senate.

The Assembly also passed bills easing class size and text book mandates for school districts. AB4 allows school districts to increase class sizes in grades one and two by two students, for a maximum of 18 per teacher. Third grade classes can add three students, for a ratio of 21 students per teacher.

It requires any money saved be used to minimize budget cut effects class sizes in other grades. It takes effect July 1 and expires June 30, 2011, the end of the fiscal year.

AB5 provides a temporary waiver to minimum textbook spending requirements for all public schools for the rest of the biennium.
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