Monday, March 1, 2010

Legislative Special Session Wrap-Up

The following is adapted from the reports filed from Carson City by NFA member-lobbyist Jim Richardson over the weekend.

Saturday night after over 5 hours of negotiations, the legislative leaders and Governor reached a budget agreement that was passed early Monday morning. What emerged from the long hours of negotiation is bittersweet for Higher Education faculty.

Overall, it is much better than was initially proposed in terms of cuts for NSHE institutions. Those initial proposals included cuts of 12.34% overall for NSHE, plus a 1.75% pay cut for all staff. The final budget cut NSHE general fund allocation by 6.9% and no additional furlough or pay cut for faculty and staff this time around. The pay cut and/or workload adjustment imposed in June on all faculty will remain in place (unless the Board of Regents opts to change it, but there is no state mandate to do so coming out of the special session.)

And, although not widely reported, the original proposal to take $11m from PEBP reserves through a skipped state premium payment, was dropped, and no further cuts were made to the health insurance program.

There were significant losses beyond the 6.9%. Major funding was lost for the Millennium Scholarship program, which was left with funding to last only another two to three years. This major source of support for Nevada students must be continued, but this becomes a problem to be solved in the next session of the Legislature. Also, the state trust fund set up in 2007 to pay for health insurance premiums of retired public service workers was emptied of nearly $25 million. Finally, $2.5m was taken from the Higher Education Capital Fund.

The state also implemented a new work schedule of 4-days/week x 10 hours per day
for state offices, however, the Board of Regents may exempt NSHE institutions wholly or partially from this schedule.

Overall the System leadership has publicly expressed support for this budget. However, there are many questions and many very difficult days ahead for Higher Education.

It is almost certain that some faculty and staff will lose their jobs as a result, and the UNLV Faculty Alliance will have more to say on the program review process shortly.

Salary cuts may have been avoided for now but this will be an ongoing fight to retain our compensation at an adequate and fair level. The NFA will be at the forefront of that fight.

PEBP rates may still be forced upward and other benefit cuts made because of medical inflation and the lack of additional funding for that program for next fiscal year.

And most damaging of all, Nevada students will see their educational opportunities more limited than they already are.

Looking ahead to the 2011 legislative session, there does seem to be bipartisan support for major modifications of the tax structure for Nevada, to make it more broad-based and better able to support basic services including education. Much will depend, of course, on the next election, and who ends up serving in the major offices that will determine what happens to Nevada’s tax structure.

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