Assembly GOP Seeks Budget Cuts in Colleges, Welfare

Nevada Legislature 2003
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To break a legislative deadlock over Nevada tax increases, Assembly Republicans want to scale back the state budget by trimming the university system and health and welfare programs.

Assemblyman Bob Beers, R-Las Vegas, said the plan may include eliminating the dental school at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas and the Nevada State College at Henderson.

Beers said the state could save $10 million a year by cutting the dental school and about $3 million a year by cutting the state college.

The Republican caucus also is targeting budget increases that passed earlier this year to manage the welfare caseload.

The state Legislature has been stalled over a tax increase of $869 million. The Legislature will come back into special session on Wednesday to reconsider the tax package and the state K-12 school budget.

The Republicans want to reopen the entire state budget to trim, rather than pass the tax package.

Assembly Minority Leader Lynn Hettrick, R-Gardnerville, said his Republicans will not vote for an $869 million tax increase. And he says he has 15 or 16 GOP votes to block any tax increase of that figure. He said the state budget must be reduced before the Assembly will be able to muster the necessary two-thirds support.

The Republican plan is to reopen the state budget, although Gov. Kenny Guinn, who decides what will be discussed in a special session, has said he would not do that.

Hettrick said his caucus' plan wouldn't include any reductions in the public schools budget, and is still working to find "enhancements" or increases in the regular budget that can be cut. Beers added one area is the dental school at UNLV that he called a "colossal waste of money."

Beers also said there may be so me reductions in the money for enrollment growth at the University and Community College System of Nevada. A formula used to project growth fixed it at about 7 percent, but Beers said 2 to 3 percent may be more realistic.

The State College in Henderson also may be targeted, Beers said, adding that $5 million given to the University of Nevada, Reno to help buy the adjacent Manogue High School may be reduced or stripped.

The Legislature authorized more than 120 new welfare workers. Beers said that should be reduced. And he said there should probably be reductions in other new state hirings.

Assembly Speaker Richard Perkins, D-Henderson, said Monday he opposed the cuts. He said lawmakers should "stand up and be counted" by showing they're willing to raise taxes to support education.

Greg Bortolin, press secretary to Gov. Kenny Guinn, said the governor "is not going to react to anything until he sees a tax package. He is not going to reopen the budget ... The governor sets the agenda for the session and the issue will be taxes."

Bortolin also said some of the figures being put together by Assembly Republicans "are not to be trusted." He said the GOP already has inflated the number of new state workers to be hired.

(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)