Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Jim Richardson reports from Carson City

NFA's representative in Carson City sends the following report on day one of the special session:

Yesterday was very busy with public and some private sessions of import. Chancellor Klaich did an admirable job late yesterday of testifying on behalf of NSHE institutions, and their students, staff, and faculty before a committee of the whole in the Assembly (see story below). He also made a brief appearance before the committee of the whole in the Senate, but will return this morning to finish testifying about the impact of the large cuts that are being considered for NSHE. There was also quite effective testimony offered to both committee of the whole by students from NSHE institutions, including a large contingent from southern Nevada who had ridden buses all night to get to the special session.

There were a number of statements made to the press by the Majority Leader of the Senate, Steven Horsford, and the Speaker of the Assembly, Barbara Buckley, that the 10% operating cuts for both K-12 and higher education were too high, and must be reduced. We were heartened by those comments, by leaders of both parties. We were also pleased to hear Majority Leader Horsford talk about the need to achieve proportional cuts (as reported in today's RJ), because the latest plan from the Governor continues the pattern of deeper cuts to higher ed than to K-12. (That new plan deleted the proposed 1.75% cut to salaries in K-12, but left then in the list of proposed cuts for NSHE professionals.) K-12 certainly needs adequate funding, but so do NSHE institutions.

It should be noted that the total cuts for NSHE are actually significantly above 10% when all the various cuts are added up, so, we are working hard to at least achieve parity in whatever cuts are made. (Those proposed NSHE cuts include an additional salary cut of 1.75% for professional employees, major cuts in funding for Millennium scholarships, cuts in funding usually used for buildings and servicing bonds, and some other cuts.)

There is a dispute over the size of the additional salary cut for professional employees in NSHE. The 1.75% figure being used in the budget proposals from the governor is supposed to be based on the additional required furlough or salary cut for classified employees of the state, but if so the figure should be much closer to 1%. The Chancellor’s staff is trying to call attention to this apparent mistake, which does amount to a difference of several million dollars system-wide.

Other issues being dealt with include the governor’s proposal to draw down the reserves for PEBP (the health plan for all state employees including NSHE employees) significantly, which would jeopardize the fiscal health of the plan. This proposal is being re-examined because some legislative leaders do not like the plan, but alternative sources to replace the funding that would accrue from the proposal are scarce.

Also, there has been some discussion of the very bad idea floated last week at an IFC hearing to defer retirement contributions for state employees for a year, and this is being addressed as well, working with the Benefits Coalition, particularly Marty Bibb, who is head of Retired Public Employees of Nevada. He has gathered important information indicating that such as idea is illegal on constitutional grounds, and demonstrating that our benefits package is already below that of most other states. We hope this idea will not be taken seriously, but are not taking any chances.

Prognosis: This special session will last several days, I think. And, given the animus that is being displayed, particularly between the governor and the legislative leaders, solving the crisis will not be easy. Some suggest that the Legislature will develop its own solution (which must be one that would survive a veto, which means a two-thirds vote), pass that solution, and then recess for the five days that the Governor has to sign or not sign the bills. If he signs or lets the bills become law without his signature, then the legislatively crafted solution will prevail. If he vetoes, then the legislature would have to reconvene to attempt an over-ride of the veto.

I will be in Carson City again today, and will report afterward. Let’s keep working hard on saving higher ed opportunities for Nevada.

Jim Richardson

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