Monday, March 1, 2010

And We Have a Budget...

It's ugly...

Gov. Jim Gibbons and Nevada legislative leaders announced at a news conference in front of the legislative building this evening that a final deal had been reached to close a budget deficit that ended up being about $805 million. But they warned that recession-plagued Nevada still faces tough times ahead.

“No one likes everything in this” deal, Gibbons said. “Everyone had to yield something, and everyone came to the table.” [...]

Assembly Speaker Barbara Buckley — who kicked off the session on Tuesday urging the Legislature to reduce the cut to education — said the state also managed to avoid some of what she called the worst cuts to health and human services. But she added that the state’s financial system needs to be overhauled.

“I think we need to tear down the financial structure we have now and start over,” said Buckley, who is term-limited and ending her service in the Legislature.

For his part, state Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford warned that the “challenge ahead is just as great,” and said the next Legislature, which meets in 2011, could face a 50 percent reduction without new revenue. He challenged “those corporations that were not able to be part of this solution” to be part of the next. It was a reference to the casino industry and other businesses, which flatly refused in a Senate hearing to agree to contributing more to help the state solve its deficit problem. (Nonetheless, the final budget plan includes an increase in the fee for new casino licenses.) [...]

Among other things, the final budget plan includes:

A reduction in the cut to K-12 education from $211 million to $116.8 million.
A reduction in higher education from $76 million to $46 million.
Eliminating a list of proposed cuts to services for the elderly, children and the disabled.
Putting most state offices on a four-day, 10-hour work week.
Cutting state contracts by $10 million.
Avoiding further pay cuts to state employees pay or benefits.
“Sweeping” state boards, commissions and agencies for nearly $200 million.
Raising the per-claim mining fee, based on the number of mining claims a person or corporation has filed. The new fees will be $70, $85 and $195.

And as you can see, there's already talk about 2011. Nevada will then be facing an even scarier deficit, and even a few Republicans are hinting about possible major tax reform in the next biennium.

But anyway, back to this budget this year. While Democratic legislators succeeded in trimming the proposed cuts to education and the social safety net, there will still be painful cuts and difficult decisions to be made.

And in addition to the budget, there's still the water issue.

Lawmakers also seemed loath to allow the water rights bill to push them past midnight.

“If we don’t feel those questions are answered and this bill is the right way to proceed, we won’t,” Assembly Speaker Barbara Buckley, D-Las Vegas, said while opening a late-night hearing on the water rights bill. “But seriously, we don’t have much time, and we don’t want to make a mistake.”

That bill, pushed by the Southern Nevada Water Authority, sought to change a recent Nevada Supreme Court decision that has thrown more than 14,000 water rights into limbo.

Yes, SNWA really wants to use this special session to push its Great Basin Water Grab. As if they couldn't think of a more inappropriate time to demand more of someone else's water to fuel more unsustainable suburban/exurban sprawl, legislators are still planning to take a vote this week on reversing the Nevada Supreme Court ruling that halted the water grab.

So obviously, this special session will be remembered for all the tough decisions made on this year's budget... But it may also turn out to be a foreshadow of what's to come on next year's budget, sustainable development, water rights, workers' rights, and much more.

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