Las Vegas Sun

May 29, 2015

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Lawmakers debate proposed cuts to higher education budget

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CARSON CITY – The debate before the full Senate Friday over the budget of Nevada’s universities and colleges turned bitter at times, but there were no decisions made on the proposed cut in financial support.

Sen. Mike Schneider, D-Las Vegas, told Regent Ron Knecht that it was the fault of the regents’ board for not bringing financial problems to the Legislature two years ago.

Knecht told the Senate he does "not think the sky is falling in because of the proposed spending reductions but it is resulting in an 'awful challenge.' "

Gov. Brian Sandoval’s budget proposal for the Nevada System of Higher Education for the next two fiscal years calls for a 22 percent drop in spending from the present biennium, according to fiscal analysts for the Legislature.

Four Las Vegas business leaders stressed the importance of the university system and Glen Christensen, chairman of the Nevada Development Authority, expressed a willingness to raise taxes.

Chancellor Dan Klaich outlined a four-point plan to help the system survive. It includes a 13 percent annual increase in tuition to bring in an estimated $40 million to $50 million extra annually.

He suggested the Legislature put in the same amount. If adopted, the fee per credit would rise from $156 to $200 in the second year of the biennium.

Sen. Michael Roberson, R-Las Vegas, said that that would mean an additional $100 million from the state. He asked Klaich where the money should come from. Klaich replied it shouldn't be taken from public schools because “they are our partners.”

Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford, D-North Las Vegas, asked Knecht a financial question and told him he wanted a “yes or no” answer. Klaich started to explain and Horsford silenced him.

Roberson then objected and said Knecht should have been allowed to answer, but Horsford replied that he was the one who asked the question.

Horsford said the university system must consider closing some of its small campuses. He said there were few students and “I hope we don’t keep them open for the sake of keeping them open.”

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