Sunday, January 30, 2011

More Voices from the Town Halls

These were a few more of the many who testified at yesterday's budget town hall at Grant Sawyer...

Brandi Stengeland and her husband, Eric, told how they had gotten autism treatment for their son Zander, who turns 4 in two weeks, with the help of $1,500 a month from the state's self-directed autism funding.

That money would be cut under Sandoval's budget, Brandi Stengeland said, leaving the total $3,000-a-month treatment to the family. She described how her son had gone from developing normally to becoming non-verbal, refusing to make eye contact.

With the help of the state funding, Zander was now speaking and labeling things.

"After four months of treatment, he put his hands on my face and looked me in the eye and said, 'Mom,'" she told the Legislature. "He told me he was in there. My little boy. What kind of a state would we be if we didn't help people like that?"

"We're in the unenviable situation of having to tell the sickest of the sick that we cannot give them rent assistance," said Barbara Aranosian, a Clark County social worker, at the budget hearing in Las Vegas. "My fellow social workers and I find this abhorrent."

Heather Richardson, who works with foster children, said her caseload is now up to 40 children, or double what's recommended by experts.

Curtis Heald, a former construction worker now at the College of Southern Nevada, said he's on a Ramen diet and a Ramen budget, referring to the inexpensive noodle dish. "Until I asked for financial aid, I never asked for anything in life but opportunity." He said he fears further budget cuts at CSN would hurt his chance at an education and a new job.

I was there. I could feel the pain of the families there. They've learned the hard way that cuts really do hurt, and that continued cutting won't allow our state to heal and grow again.

This was also largely the sentiment of the crowd at the Washoe County Commission chambers in Reno yesterday.

The [Reno] meeting lasted 5.5 hours and attracted at least 600 citizens. A similar meeting in Las Vegas attracted about 800 people, said Assemblywoman Debbie Smith, D-Sparks, and chairwoman of the Ways and Means Committee.

"There is a tremendous amount of interest both north and south," Smith said. "The attendance was probably double from the last town hall we had. People are very concerned about the budget, and there are a lot of different opinions."

Many of the speakers were students, concerned about Sandoval's proposed cuts to the higher education budget. Others were concerned about K-12 education and health issues, such as the elimination of mental health triage centers in Reno and Las Vegas. Some expressed dismay over the cutting of funds for children with autism.

"It is always a good reality check when people speak," said state Sen. Sheila Leslie, D-Reno, and chairwomen of the state Senate Revenue Committee. "What I am taking away from this is generally people are not in favor of the governor's budget. They are very concerned about education and the cuts to mental health and they think we can do better." [...]

Many college students are concerned that tuition will be raised and they will be driven out of college before they earn their degrees, said Charlie Jose, the president of the Associated Students of the University of Nevada.

"We have students who have incurred years worth of loans to pay for school but may not finish their programs and not have a means to pay back those funds," Jose said. "We have first-generation students who may not finish their degrees and become the symbol of hope and prosperity for their families."

Paulette Batayola, the student body president of Great Basin College in Elko, recalled one of Sandoval's lines in a speech.

"I keep hearing, 'Let's make Nevada Nevada again' but I can't help but ask myself and ask you how is Nevada going to be Nevada again when I can feel we are headed to a Nevada of no return?"

Ain't that the truth.

Our state is hurting, and the last thing we need right now is even more cuts to the very lifelines we are depending upon for a better future. The people of Nevada made that known yesterday, and it seemed some of the legislators in Vegas and Reno were listening. Will they remember when the legislative session begins soon in Carson City?

They have to. We can't let them forget. We won't let them forget. Our state's survival is at stake. Our kids' future is at stake.

Can Nevada ever be Nevada again if our people are cut to death? That's what these budget cuts mean. That's what happens when schools don't function, when people can't access the health care they need, when infrastructure continues to be neglected. How about letting our state and our people heal for a change?

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