Nev. governor responds to state worker suggestions

AP News
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Posted: Dec 31, 2009 8:05 AM

Nevada public schools and the higher education system receive the bulk of state general fund money and should share in any new rounds of budget cut pain, Gov. Jim Gibbons said.

"We want to protect education as much as we can," Gibbons said Tuesday in a letter to state workers, "however, we cannot continue to take virtually all of the budget cuts out of the remaining 46 percent of the state budget that funds the other state agencies.

"We must strike a balance to preserve as many jobs as possible, both in education and in state government," he wrote.

The letter was a response to suggestions his office sought and received from state employees on how to deal with Nevada's growing budget deficit.

Gibbons said a personal income tax or raising taxes on casinos or the mining industry are not viable options for Nevada's immediate budget problems.

A personal income tax is prohibited under the state constitution, and implementing one or raising the mining tax would require voter approval in two successive elections, he said.

Gibbons also said that increasing taxes on casinos, which have seen revenues decline for 22 straight months, "would close some operations and increase layoffs for others."

"Reducing jobs and adding to unemployment is no better for gaming than it would be for state employees," he said.

The first-term Republican governor also said that raising the sales tax, already increased by the 2009 Legislature, would prompt more people to shop online to avoid the levy.

Gibbons, who is up for re-election next year and has stood firm on a no new tax platform, has asked the Economic Forum for updated revenue projections as he considers whether a special session is needed to deal with a $73 million fiscal year deficit that grows larger by the day.

Earlier this month, he asked state agencies to submit by next week plans for cutting their budgets by up to 10 percent, and said all options would be considered, including layoffs, extended furloughs and reduced work weeks.

At the start of the 2009 Legislature, Gibbons proposed a 36 percent budget cut to the state's higher education system.

Targeted reductions for the state's two universities were even deeper, roughly 50 percent, and the proposal generated protests at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas and an editorial in the student newspaper at the University of Nevada, Reno calling for Gibbons' impeachment.

State lawmakers restored two-thirds of the higher education cuts the governor sought.