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September 1, 2015

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Chancellor gives gloomy outlook for higher education amid budget debate

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Chancellor Dan Klaich

Nevada Higher Education Chancellor Dan Klaich delivered a blunt assessment of the financial future of the state's eight colleges and universities Friday amid the ongoing budget debate in the state Legislature.

Klaich briefed the 13 members of the publicly elected Board of Regents during a special meeting at UNLV, saying they have done everything they can to prevent what had been $162 million in higher education budget cuts being pushed by Gov. Brian Sandoval and legislative Republicans.

"The difficult news is there's an enormous ideological divide in this (legislative) session that has as far as I can determine nothing to do with higher education," he said. "How (the divide will) be bridged is unknown to me and unknown to most."

University and college presidents, lobbyists and members of the business community have advocated for higher education's budget message, he said, yet that message hasn't resonated with Sandoval, his staff or Republican lawmakers.

The proposed $162 million in cuts were reduced by $18 million earlier this week when the five-member state Economic Forum delivered a new revenue outlook that will reduce cuts to higher education and the state's public schools by $263 million to $277 million.

The unexpected revenue was the result of a temporary amnesty to pay back sales taxes owed by companies doing business in the state, record gold prices that have benefited Northern Nevada mining operations, increased clothing and equipment sales linked to the mines, sales tax revenue generated by purchases for a natural gas pipeline under construction in Northern Nevada and unclaimed personal bank and investment accounts forfeited to the state after they go unclaimed.

The bulk of that money, about $240 million, will go to the state's K-12 public schools. A total of $20 million is earmarked for the state's colleges and universities.

Late Thursday, the governor's office informed the higher education system that UNLV will receive $4.8 million from the so-called add back during the 2011-2013 budget period; the College of Southern Nevada will receive $3 million. UNR will get $3.7 million, Nevada State College will receive $367,000, with an additional $250,000 going to the Boyd School of Law and $240,000 earmarked for the UNLV dental school. University and college officials haven't determined how they will disburse the additional revenue.

Legislative Democrats on Thursday unveiled a long-awaited revenue plan that would include new taxes on services and business revenues. Democrats project that proposal would boost state general spending during the 2011-2013 budget period by an estimated $920 million more than Sandoval's proposed $6.1 billion budget.

"It essentially totally revamps the tax structure of the state," Klaich said of the plan introduced by Assembly Speaker John Oceguera, D-Las Vegas, and Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford, D-North Las Vegas.

An estimated $123 million of the additional tax revenue would go to higher education, closing the projected budget hole while reversing recent cuts, according to higher education officials.

Sandoval Senior Adviser Dale Erquiaga dismissed the plan Friday.

"Clearly, we don't support finding money through taxes," he wrote in a text message. "We do appreciate the chancellor's efforts and hope he continues to work on behalf of students."

Since 2008, UNLV has lost 196 state-funded, full-time equivalent positions, or 8.1 percent, and the Nevada System of Higher Education has experienced cuts totaling 18.4 percent. UNLV has eliminated about 540 positions since the 2008 fiscal year. If Sandoval's budget is passed, the higher education system projects that UNLV will experience additional cuts.

UNLV is proposing the closure of 12 academic colleges, schools and departments or centers; and elimination or suspension of academic programs, 36 academic degrees and the elimination of 600 course sections.

Systemwide, for all seven degree-granting institutions within the Nevada System of Higher Education, officials are looking at the closure of 29 academic colleges, schools, departments or centers; elimination or suspension of 23 academic programs; elimination of 46 academic degrees and the elimination of 2,313 course sections.

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