Las Vegas Sun

October 13, 2015

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Cutting to the bone

People will feel the effects of the budget ax if proposed cuts are enacted

State agencies recently submitted their responses to Gov. Jim Gibbons’ request for 10 percent budget cuts for the next two fiscal years. Gibbons’ office asked for the ideas as it prepares a draft budget to hand over to the next governor.

As David McGrath Schwartz reported in Thursday’s Las Vegas Sun, the 455 pages of recommendations include some sobering suggestions. If they are adopted, a prison would close, as would four of the state’s seven museums. The elderly would lose hearing aids and dentures, and 17,000 seniors would lose assistance to pay property taxes or rent.

Despite rhetoric from the far right about government being “bloated,” this is the reality of what Nevada faces. The next governor and the new Legislature in 2011 will have to make decisions that will seriously affect people’s lives.

For example, the Health and Human Services Department, which is one of the state’s largest agencies, was asked to recommend $200 million in cuts, and as part of that, it suggested eliminating a program that helps 6,500 disabled Nevadans. The program pays for a personal-care aide for disabled people for a few hours a day, allowing them to stay in their homes. But since the program isn’t mandated under Medicaid, it was ripe for cutting, and doing so would save $55 million over two years.

“We needed to cut spending. The only way to do that is reducing programs,” said Ben Kieckhefer, Health and Human Services spokesman. “If it was not this one, it would be something else.”

However, cutting the program would take a serious toll, both in terms of human and financial cost.

For Michael Hawley, who has been a quadriplegic since a motorcycle accident in 2008, the aide helps him brush his teeth, change his diaper and clean up. The aide is crucial in helping him live on his own. Without the help, he said he would be in a nursing home, and that would cost at least twice as much as it costs for his personal care, food stamps and Social Security, combined.

That doesn’t make fiscal sense, but that’s what the Legislature may opt to do to balance the budget in the short term. As ridiculous as that sounds, there is a long history in this state of governors and lawmakers balancing the budget by focusing solely on the short term. Thus the state limps from one legislative session to the next.

The special session of the Legislature called this year to make budget cuts is a prime example. Lawmakers were presented with recommendations that included cutting hearing aids for seniors and adult diapers. Those programs were saved, but the number of adult diapers a person could receive was cut.

When the Legislature is dealing with trying to balance the budget by cutting adult diapers, voters should take that as a sign of a much bigger problem, not just the state budget but the state’s priorities.

Unfortunately, this election cycle has been steeped in the Tea Party’s rhetoric, and as a result, there are too many candidates who proudly think they have the “solution” to the state’s problems — slash the “bloated” budget and curb “big” government. Those candidates who make such claims fail to see through their narrow ideology to understand the facts: Nevada has a paucity of services and one of the smallest governments per capita in the nation.

The truth is that making more sweeping budget cuts will further erode the quality of life here, and axing preventive services will cost the taxpayers more money in the long run. That’s foolish.

Nevadans want leaders who understand that simplistic across-the-board cuts do nothing to help restore the state’s fortunes. The state needs leaders who can articulate a positive vision and who can chart a course to make Nevada great — for everyone.

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