View from the fray

State of emergency

You can read the State of the State address at
We held our breath as Gov. Kenny Guinn took us on the scary ride that was Monday’s State of the State address. First he made the case for calling the state of Nevada “fragile”—a kind of post-terrorism, tribal-gambling and lack-of-foresight-in-the-past combo. Then he outlined budget cuts that have been made: $120 million in 2001, statewide 3 percent cuts and a hiring freeze that kept 1,500 state jobs open, to name a few.

This said, expected revenues for the next two years are insanely low. More money is desperately needed. Everyone knew this. We tensely awaited Guinn’s bottom line.

“A more prosperous Nevada, and a better educational system, requires an investment by all Nevadans and all Nevada businesses,” Guinn said fiercely. “Therefore, I bring to you tonight a budget request for $980 million in new revenue.”

Some people clapped, but it didn’t look like two-thirds of the legislators—the number of votes needed to make the budget a reality—were thrilled with the gubernatorial proposal.

My first thought? This ain’t going to be nearly enough money.

For the past few weeks, I’ve been talking to folks about what the 2003 Legislature needs to do to ensure that Nevada has a healthy future. Like Gov. Guinn, who said that “education is not part of my agenda—education is my agenda,” I can’t imagine a better investment on the part of the state than to beef up our tired, under-funded school system. Nevada expects another 27,000 new students next year.

I’ll be writing more about this next week, but for now let’s just say that $980 million would cover what school district trustees in 17 counties say they need just to make their schools “adequate.”

District officials across Nevada are going to the Legislature with a plan to restore previous reductions of funds to public schools (about $314 million), to attract and retain an “adequate” work force ($382 million), to increase instructional time for students ($106 million) and to fund work force preparation classes and the implementation of a classroom discipline program ($66 million). While educators are pretty realistic about their chances of seeing the whole $879-plus million, it’d be great to try to bump our schools all the way up to “adequate.”

Giving the schools this needed financial infusion, though, wouldn’t leave much for other important state needs. Just to meet last year’s stripped-down version of a budget is going to suck off $700 million of the new funds.

And Guinn promises not to cut such programs as Nevada Check-Up. “Cutting a program whose sole purpose is to give health care to 25,000 needy children is wrong,” he said. Also, the state’s prescription drug program for seniors, Senior Rx, helps 7,500 seniors, and 1,500 more are on a waiting list. He’s not gonna cut that. Enrollment in the state’s institutes of higher learning is up by about 32 percent. That’s going to need funding. And roads. And social services. And prisons.

That’s why $980 million is not nearly adequate enough. But given the uphill battle that any oh-so-scary Nevada tax hike will be, I guess it’s an OK place to start.