Las Vegas Sun

November 30, 2015

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Biggest spending cuts, tax increases in Nevada history won’t close budget gap, Assembly speaker says

John Oceguera

John Oceguera

Arthur A. "Andy" Hafen

Arthur A. "Andy" Hafen

Debra March

Debra March

Nevada Assembly Speaker John Oceguera painted a gloomy picture of Nevada’s present and future before the Henderson City Council on Tuesday night.

In a presentation the same as those Oceguera gave before the Las Vegas and North Las Vegas city councils last month, the speaker pointed out that the state has already made deep cuts in education, health services and public safety. Those cuts, he said, are only going to get deeper during the next legislative session.

“I think you’ll be shocked if you’re not already aware of some of the things we’ve already done,” Oceguera said.

Oceguera noted that the deficit is 54 percent of Nevada’s budget — the largest percentage of any state in the nation. The deficit is estimated at $2.7 billion, Oceguera said.

The 10 percent cuts Gov. Brian Sandoval has suggested won’t come close to closing the budget hole, Oceguera said. Those cuts would make up only $819 million of the shortfall, he said.

The state could make the largest cuts in history and the largest tax increase in Nevada history and still not close the gap, Oceguera said.

“I think we do have to cut and we have to have government spending reform,” Oceguera said. “We just can’t do it without it.”

“You do this much better than we do,” he said of city governments’ ability to plan for the future. “We have to have a long-term plan. We have to have an economic development strategy.”

The state has already made significant cuts to health programs, including the Mammovan, which provides mammograms for women to detect breast cancer. The state has also made major cuts to senior care and higher education, he said.

As in his other meetings with city councils in the valley, Oceguera pointed out that although some constituents suggest cutting parks or museums, those state functions make up a small percentage of the state budget.

“That wouldn’t put a dent in the hole that we have,” he said. “We’ve already reduced the hours of our parks. We’ve already reduced the hours of our museums.”

Oceguera also noted that Nevada has the highest home foreclosure rate and highest unemployment rate in the county. But, he said, it has one of the friendliest business environments of any state.

That ranking, however, wont be enough to entice new businesses to the state.

“They rank us on what our schools are, what the poverty rate is,” he said. “In those quality of life factors, we rank pretty low.”

Councilwoman Debra March urged Oceguera to consider all other options before the state would begin raiding city and local coffers.

After Oceguera’s presentation, Henderson Mayor Andy Hafen said he was still keeping his chin up about Nevada’s future.

“I’m going to be very optimistic here,” he said. “I really think that if we all work together, we are a very resilient state and a very resilient community.”

Councilman Steve Kirk asked if raising taxes would be likely during the next legislative session.

“I’m projecting that $2.7 billion is a tough amount to come up with,” Oceguera said. “I don’t know in good conscience that I can cut some of the things I outlined, and that doesn’t even get us there.”

“Am I advocating a tax increase? No. I’m advocating all the things we need to do first,” he said.

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