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Horsford questions budget cuts to education, prisons


Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun

Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford talks to the media after a meeting of the Senate Revenue Committee on the second day of the 2011 legislative session Tuesday, February 8, 2011 in Carson City.

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CARSON CITY – Education is taking the biggest hit in reductions in Gov. Brian Sandoval’s proposed budget while state prisons are getting an increase in funding, says Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford, D-Las Vegas, in a battle over numbers.

Horsford questioned state Budget Director Andrew Clinger today about why there are cutbacks in education, but prisons get more money.

Horsford's analysis showed the governor reducing spending by $709 million, with $664 million or 93 percent of the cuts being made in education. He said some students won't be able to attend college with proposed increases in tuition.

He suggested the state prison budget was being increased by 11 percent, and questioned the priorities of the governor.

Clinger replied that education is taking a proportional share of the reductions and added that he didn't think education was being hit with 93 percent of the cutbacks.

“We don’t have the resources to cover all the needs,” Clinger said. This proposed budget “does the least amount of damage.”

Clinger said the prison budget is being lowered by 5 percent, not increased 11 percent. To cut it more would mean closing prisons and releasing inmates, he said.

Sen. Sheila Leslie, D-Reno, said she would like to see reforms in the prison system. Inmates with mental problems could be released to be enrolled in programs run by the state Division of Mental Health, she said.

Sen. Barbara Cegavske, R-Las Vegas, suggested there be reforms in the university system. She said students should graduate in four years, and suggested there be changes in the classroom, such as higher quality teachers.

Cegavske said the Nevada System of Higher Education only comes asking for more money and doesn't suggest improvements to the system.

Sandoval has reduced the general fund budget for universities and community colleges, and has suggested part of the shortfall could be made up by higher fees and tuition.

Also Monday, Horsford suggested Sandoval’s plan for putting the state Division of Museums and History under the state Tourism Commission would create a budget hole in the future.

Horsford, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, said the Tourism Commission would have to take $3.7 million out of its reserve to cover the cost of the museums and arts council.

The chairman said once those reserve funds are exhausted, there would be a shortfall in the budget in the 2014-2015 budget. He directed tourism officials to prepare a five-year projection of how the museums and arts council would be financed in the future.

Steve Woodbury, of the Tourism Commission, said if there is not enough money then cutbacks would have to be made. The commission is financed by three-eighth of 1 percent of room tax collections.

The agency is projecting $14.3 million in revenue this fiscal year; $14.7 million in fiscal 2012 and $15.4 million in fiscal 2013.

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