Union: Nevada Budget Cuts Could Bring Layoffs

CARSON CITY, Nev. (AP) - With Nevada's projected budget shortfall nearing $800 million, a government employees' union leader says there's no way Gov. Jim Gibbons can avoid layoffs unless revenues improve - and layoffs could cause public safety problems.

"If there are any staff reductions in prisons, there would be an imminent threat to the community," said Dennis Mallory of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees' Nevada Local 4041. "Who's to stop prisoners from jumping over the walls?"

Howard Skolnik, director Nevada's prison system, already has said he would avoid layoffs. Instead, he hopes to generate new revenue through the lease of the state's prison in Jean, which is being closed down.

Mallory, the union local's chief of staff, added Tuesday that if Nevada Highway Patrol officers are laid off, many drivers will tend to speed if they don't see a trooper for 100 miles to 200 miles.

Ben Kieckhefer, Gibbons' press secretary, said the administration still has not made a final decision on whether cuts will be made. He said that's something Gibbons wants to avoid "at all costs."

Mallory said the agency most affected is the state's largest - the Department of Health and Human Services. That department has come under fire recently because its Bureau of Licensure and Certification didn't regularly inspect Las Vegas medical clinics where careless practices might have exposed 40,000 people to potentially fatal bloodborne illnesses.

The economic crisis gripping state government is the worst since 1992, when Gov. Bob Miller cut spending by $173 million and laid off 236 people. The state budget then was less than one-third of today's.

Gibbons will meet Monday with legislative leaders to discuss the potential for a nearly $800 million shortfall by mid-2009, the end of the current two-year budget cycle, and what's needed to balance the state's $6.8 billion budget if gambling and sales tax revenues continue to fall below expectations.

The governor and legislators built the two-year budget expecting revenues from all tax sources would permit $1 billion in spending
increases. It now appears actual growth will be about $200 million,
or less than 2 percent a year.

(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)