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March 23, 2019

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Hundreds in Las Vegas, Reno protest budget cuts at town hall meetings

Sandoval Budget Town Hall

Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun

People fill an overflow room to listen to testimony during a town hall meeting at the Grant Sawyer Building to hear citizens’ concerns about Gov. Brian Sandoval’s proposed budget Saturday, January 29, 2011.

Sandoval Budget Town Hall

Gov. Brian Sandoval supporter Dave Roberts, left, and Nevada State College alumnus Matt Mitchell discuss their differing views during a town hall meeting at the Grant Sawyer Building to hear citizens' concerns about Sandoval's proposed budget Saturday, January 29, 2011. Launch slideshow »

Town hall

KSNV coverage of town hall meeting on Gov. Brian Sandoval's proposed state budget, Jan. 29, 2011.

Sun Coverage

Hundreds of people gathered in Las Vegas and Reno today to protest Gov. Brian Sandoval's budget and the cuts he has proposed to services for the poor, K-12 and higher education.

Most of the speakers at the town halls -- estimated by the Legislature as 800 in Las Vegas and 600 in Reno -- called for tax increases to offset cuts proposed by Sandoval.

"Find the revenue to not make Nevada embarrassing," said Richard Tracy, 67, of Reno, after complaining about the low percentage of Nevada high school graduates who complete college.

Sandoval on Monday delivered his State of the State speech and released his budget plan to close a $2.2 billion hole to fund services at existing levels. It included a 9 percent cut to K-12 and a 17.66 percent cut to higher education.

Testimony at the Legislature's town hall meetings in Las Vegas and Reno went on for hours. Speakers tearfully testified about services they received or education they depended on.

The state teachers' union, employees' unions, higher education student leaders and those who receive services helped mobilize the crowd to push back against Sandoval's budget, in which he doesn't raise taxes. Democratic lawmakers have complained about his cuts, but have not said whether they would raise taxes yet.

Some speakers at each location and some demonstrators in Las Vegas praised Sandoval for following through on his pledge to balance the budget without raising taxes.

In a press conference outside the hearing in Las Vegas' Grant Sawyer Building, Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford said Gov. Brian Sandoval's budget is dead because of its education cuts.

Horsford also accused Sandoval of budget gimmickry in his use of Clark County school capital money, his borrowing against future insurance premium tax revenue and his proposal to push responsibilities onto local governments.

Sandoval's administration worked since the election to minimize cuts to health and human services, which provides health care for the state's poor, elderly and disabled.

But those who depend on the services said there were still cuts, such as to an autism program.

Brandi Stengeland and her husband, Eric, told how they had gotten autism treatment for their son Zander, who turns 4 in two weeks, with the help of $1,500 a month from the state's self-directed autism funding.

That money would be cut under Sandoval's budget, Brandi Stengeland said, leaving the total $3,000-a-month treatment to the family. She described how her son had gone from developing normally to becoming non-verbal, refusing to make eye contact.

With the help of the state funding, Zander was now speaking and labeling things.

"After four months of treatment, he put his hands on my face and looked me in the eye and said, 'Mom,'" she told the Legislature. "He told me he was in there. My little boy. What kind of a state would we be if we didn't help people like that?"

"We're in the unenviable situation of having to tell the sickest of the sick that we cannot give them rent assistance," said Barbara Aranosian, a Clark County social worker, at the budget hearing in Las Vegas. "My fellow social workers and I find this abhorrent."

Heather Richardson, who works with foster children, said her caseload is now up to 40 children, or double what's recommended by experts.

Curtis Heald, a former construction worker now at the College of Southern Nevada, said he's on a Ramen diet and a Ramen budget, referring to the inexpensive noodle dish. "Until I asked for financial aid, I never asked for anything in life but opportunity." He said he fears further budget cuts at CSN would hurt his chance at an education and a new job.

Assemblyman Pat Hickey, R-Reno, said the testimony was powerful. But he said the services and funding depended, to a large degree, on the health of the private sector.

"Is someone going to come forward with a tax suggestion this session?" he said. "At this point, I'm in agreement with the governor."

State Sen. Ben Kieckhefer, R-Reno, said there will be more conversations about the budget, and he wanted to undo some cuts to things like autism. But, he said, "Right now I'm not considering a tax increase."

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