[Budget woes]

Leaping into the abyss

State and local government spending is in deep trouble as the balancing of the budgets begins

’Tis the season to cringe at our collective budgets. At Clark County High School meetings last week, parents weighed in about their preferences for cutbacks: keep athletics, get rid of assistant principals. Keep special education, get rid of early retirement incentives. But who knows how it will all break down?

The same thing was happening in the county offices about the county’s budget: commissioners met with union representatives—Service Employees International Union, Police Protective Association and the International Association of Firefighters—to talk about how to avoid layoffs in this slimming-down season.

And at Las Vegas City Hall, a heated exchange broke out between Mayor Oscar Goodman and Culinary Union research director Chris Bohner about the city’s intention to spend $150 million on a new city hall while considering budget cuts elsewhere, such as in personnel spending.

And then there’s the travesty that is the Nevada state budget. Last week Gov. Jim Gibbons and legislative leaders said they’d reached an agreement to slash spending by $300 million, the details of which were to be revealed this week.

The Details

From the Archives
Wages in Sin (City): Gibbons offers pay cut to help budget crisis (11/26/08)
Anatomy of a budget cut (2/20/08)
A Guide to the Clark County School Board (4/13/06)
Beyond the Weekly
Coming season of hope makes one sanguine on leaders’ readiness to tackle budget woes (Las Vegas Sun, 11/23/08)
Schools bailout would really help economy (Las Vegas Sun, 11/22/08)
Unkind cuts to schools (Las Vegas Sun, 11/21/08)
Lawmakers, governor work on budget problems (Las Vegas Sun, 11/20/08)
Nevada Budget Cut Hearing
The State Legislative Commission will hold a hearing regarding state budget cuts on Monday, December 8 at 1:30 p.m.
Public comment will begin at 4 p.m.
The hearing is at the Grant Sawyer Building, Room 4401, 555 E. Washington Ave. in Las Vegas.

Any way you slice it, state and local governments are facing a watershed, or Waterloo, moment. Here are some knotted numbers and unpleasant possible solutions they’re considering:

Emergency fixes always sound easier than more cuts or tax increases. Like this one, from state Treasurer Kate Marshall: Maybe the state can borrow $150 million through its local government investment pool.

Let’s hope something magical can work. Otherwise, some things being considered start to hurt—a lot. Assembly Speaker Barbara Buckley says that more cuts are not the answer: Already the state has trimmed, in this biennium: $113 million from health and human services; $173 million from K-12 education and another $48 million in textbook money; nearly $84 million from higher education; and some $26 million from prisons. Additionally, Buckley has told anyone who will listen, the state lost about $45 million in federal funds because it couldn’t meet matching-fund requirements.

But on November 12, the governor’s office sent out a letter to all agencies asking them to prepare further budget cuts of 4 percent, 7 percent and 11 percent for negotiating purposes.

Lawmakers and Gibbons were set to meet again Tuesday, and the state Economic Forum, which will update estimates of decline of state tax revenue, will meet December 1 to offer up some numbers for lawmakers to work with. Everything’s in flux.

Meanwhile, the county has yet to make public its specific shortfall figures, but has already begun cutting services at UMC, and has also chosen not to fill 350 jobs that were budgeted.

According to city financial statements, the city is looking to cut “about $30 million from the budget in the next fiscal year, and as much as $150 million over the next five years. The city is already looking to cut $20 million from the current fiscal year’s budget.”

Already the city council approved some cost-cutting measures:

• Eliminate $4.5 million in vacant positions;

• Eliminate $1.9 million in non-labor costs;

• Lower the city’s 12 percent city reserve-fund balance policy to 10 percent;

• Phase in unidentified fee increases over the next several years;

• Delay capital improvement projects that will require additional staffing for one to two years;

• Work with the city’s four labor units to reduce the annual growth in employee compensation. A progress report from city staff is expected by December 3.

CCSD has a long list of cuts made, cuts planned and cut possibilities. Since December 2007, the District says it has cut spending by $110 million by trimming programs like GATE and empowerment schools, textbooks and administrative costs. Another $120 million is set to be cut for the upcoming biennial budget, plus another $27 to $75 million for the rest of this year’s budget. Those cuts have yet to be identified, but the State Legislative Commission will hold a hearing regarding these on Monday, December 8 at 1:30 p.m. Public comment will begin at 4 p.m. The hearing is at the Grant Sawyer Building, Room 4401, 555 E. Washington Ave. in Las Vegas.

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