Friday, February 26, 2010

Special Session daily update, day 3

NFA member-lobbyist reports from Carson City on Day 3 of the special session.

Key developments for Higher Ed faculty in the report that follows:

1. The Assembly took a straw vote to reduce the cut for NSHE down to 5%, from 12.5%. Only the Democrats supported this proposal, although later in the day the Republican Assembly leadership presented a somewhat aleatory alternative budget which included a 7.5% cut for NSHE. Reports from the Senate side suggest they are also working in the range of 5 to 7.5%.

2. The Senate passed a bill expanding the mandatory furlough for state employees by 2 hours per week (1.15% of salary, to a total of 5.75% of salary). The bill makes clear that the legislature expects no exemptions and the Board of Regents will determine at its March 4 meeting how this applies to faculty and professional staff.

[Away from Carson City, the NFA is working now with Faculty Senate leadership statewide and the System Council on language to propose to the Regents that would preserve the essential protections for tenured faculty under the Code and avoid a financial exigency merely for the purpose of a pay cut. More on this if it becomes necessary next week.]

3. The Senate also passed a bill that will mandate a 4-day 10-hour work week for state employees, but it will be up to the Board of Regents to determine if this applies to NSHE staff and how.

4. All of this is provisional and today is expected to be the day when the legislature addresses business's share of the burden in the form of modest increases to fees.

These increases would be only a fraction of the increases borne by our students in the past few years, so one hopes that all legislators, including Republicans, will support a role for mining, gaming and other businesses in the solution to the state budget crisis.

Richardson's report follows:

The third day was definitely interesting, with some major progress made, but not too much really definite yet. There was success in getting the premium holiday for PEBP not included in the so-called “sweeps bill” which raided many different funds to the tune of about $200 million. This premium holiday had been proposed by the governor, but it would have raided crucial reserves for the health plan, and thus would have forced rates to be increased again, or benefits to have been cut again (or both). So, that was a victory, and we think it will hold, as legislative leaders of both parties are supportive. They all understand, thanks to your cards and letters and those of other active and retired participants last session and recently, that PEBP has already been hit very hard and needs to be left alone!

Some major progress was also made on the issue of lowering the cut on NSHE budgets . Nothing is set in stone, but we did see the Assembly Democrats support lowering the overall cut from nearly 13% to 5%. Later in the day the Assembly Republicans released a plan that proposed lowering the overall NSHE cut to 7.5%. We are grateful for these expressions of support, and efforts to relieve some of the severe pressures on NSHE institutions, faculty, students, and staff, but will be more comfortable when some real votes are taken to lower the hit on NSHE.

...The furlough bill is about to be passed that includes the “four-tens” idea for state workers. As you read those stories keep in mind that the authority to implement this requirement is left with the Board of Regents ...One major impact obviously will be a further increase in furlough hours for classified from eight to ten per month, and this additional temporary pay cut may be passed on to all faculty this time around. It is my understanding that the decision made last June about implementation of furloughs probably will still be operable, but that the small additional hit of salaries may affect all professional employees effective July 1. (...the paragraph above is my best understanding on this matter [and subject to change at any time so exercise caution in drawing any conclusions until the session completes its work and the Board of Regents meets next week.])

As to other developments, we are all in a holding pattern. Additional revenues must be found and the decision of the gaming industry reported below to refuse to cooperate may hinder settling the matter any time soon. But we remain hopeful!

Do send communications to legislators who are trying to get the proposed cuts to NSHE lowered. We should be grateful for these efforts in the face of the huge shortfall that the state faces. But please be civil in all communications to legislators. We must continue to try to work with them through this crisis.

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