Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Some encouraging news from the legislature but picture is still bleak

This morning, the Senate Finance and Assembly Ways & Means Committees (meeting jointly) discussed the overall picture of the state budget, which is bleak and getting bleaker.

Yet there was some encouragement for public service workers about protecting our health care. Key legislative leaders spoke clearly against the Governor's proposals (based on the recommendations of the SAGE Commission) to eliminate benefits for health insurance of retirees and to make steep cuts to the state's contribution to active worker's health insurance. Although on firm decisions were made, the comments of the key legislative leaders on those issues were very encouraging.

Speaker Buckley, Majority Leader Horsford, Assemblyman Morse Arberry, Assemblywoman Sheila Leslie, and Senator Bob Coffin, among others, emphasized that commitments made by the state to its workers -- especially concerning health insurance coverage for both active workers and in retirement -- should be upheld.

While making clear that the budget situation is very grim and suggesting that salary cuts remain a possibility, these legislative leaders sent an explicit message to state workers that the most draconian cuts advocated by the Governor cannot be sustained and that the budget deficit will not be filled entirely on the backs of public service workers. Senator Horsford, Senator Coffin and Assemblywoman Leslie all made clear their desire to express what they considered the sense of these key committees, that the first priority will be that those currently in or approaching retirement should not lose their health insurance.

It is clear that these key legislative leaders have heard our concerns and are aware and seeking to respond to them.

After the formal discussion, during the public comment at the end of the hearing, representatives of many groups that advocate for public service workers spoke about the unified concerns of state workers (AFSCME), teachers (NSEA), peace officers (Peace Officers Association of Nevada), and retired public service workers (RPEN). The first of these speakers was the NFA's representative, Jim Richardson, who has spear-headed the coordinated efforts of these groups, which yesterday issued a joint statement on principles it hopes the legislature will follow in making decisions concerning health care benefits.

While the news concerning salary cuts is very worrisome, the comments concerning health benefits is encouraging news, and thanks to all NFA members and other faculty, staff and others who have taken the time to educate themselves about these issues and have communicated their concerns to the legislature.

We need to keep up these efforts for the remainder of the session!

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