The state's university-college chancellor called Tuesday for talks with Gov. Jim Gibbons, warning that the prospect of deep budget cuts would be "devastating" for Nevada's K-12 and higher education systems.
Gibbons has told the heads of various Nevada government agencies to produce "what-if" budget cut plans of up to 14 percent - a level that could mean drastic steps such as program shutdowns or layoffs for some.
The plans are due July 1 and will be reviewed by the governor to see what's acceptable in preparing his proposed budget that will be submitted to the 2009 Legislature.
Chancellor Jim Rogers wrote Gibbons to say that he and the superintendents of schools in Washoe and Clark counties, Nevada's largest, want to meet with the governor to discuss "new and better financial philosophies" for funding education.
"You, as our governor, have the power to save education," Rogers said. "On the other hand, you have the power to prevent all of us from rescuing education if you really choose to sit on the sideline, doing nothing, while Nevada education dies of starvation."
Gibbons spokesman Ben Kieckhefer said the governor would "be happy to sit down with education officials from across the state" once he has an accurate estimate on revenue projections going into the coming two-year budget cycle.
Kieckhefer also said Gibbons is considering options to safeguard education, including Lt. Gov. Brian Krolicki's proposal to erase three-quarters of the state's projected revenue shortfall of nearly $1 billion in the current budget cycle by selling bonds that would be redeemed with payments Nevada now gets from the tobacco industry.
"We are in the preliminary stages of budgeting for the upcoming biennium, and no decisions have been made as to where spending reductions might be necessary," he added.
If revenues continue to fall below expectations, state Budget Director Andrew Clinger has said the state would be faced with a two-year budget of about $7 billion starting in July 2009. That's barely higher - by only about 3 percent - than the current two-year budget.
That compares with state spending that normally increases 15 to 20 percent from one budget cycle to another to keep up with various demands for services in a rapidly growing state. Demands are still growing - but the planning is needed in case the revenue isn't there to pay for expanded services required by those demands.
The "what-if" cuts would include nearly $189 million less for K-12 public schools. For higher education the figure is nearly $97 million.
Gibbons has repeatedly said he would oppose new or higher taxes as a way out of the fiscal crisis, although he recently said he could support a deal that would result in higher room taxes rather than increased casino taxes - but only if Nevadans backed the idea in an advisory ballot question.