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Agencies in Nevada told to plan cuts

Brendan Riley / The Associated Press

CARSON CITY – The heads of various Nevada government agencies were told Wednesday by Gov. Jim Gibbons’ office to come up with budget-cut plans of up to 14 percent – a level that could mean drastic steps such as program shutdowns or layoffs.

Andrew Clinger, Gibbons’ budget director, said the plans are due July 1 and will be reviewed by the governor to see what’s acceptable in preparing his proposed budget.

Clinger said cutback plans will range from about 10 percent to 14.1 percent, depending on the level of reductions that agencies already have imposed as the state deals with an economic slump and a projected revenue shortfall through mid-2009 that’s nearing $1 billion.

If revenues continue to fall below expectations, Clinger said the state would be faced with a two-year budget of about $7 billion starting in July 2009. That’s barely higher – by only about 3 percent – than the current two-year budget.

That compares with state spending that normally increases 15 percent to 20 percent from one budget cycle to another to keep up with various demands for services in a rapidly growing state.

Demands still are growing, but the planning is needed in case the revenue isn’t there to pay for expanded services required by those demands.

“We could get lucky, and tax revenues will be higher and caseloads will be lower, and we’ll have more room to fund a base budget than we’re anticipating,” Clinger said. But he added it’s easier to add money back in later than to “go blindly” until realizing too late that there’s a big hole in the budget.

The plans were described by Gibbons’ press secretary, Ben Kieckhefer, as “a what-if scenario” that assumes nearly $600 million less for agencies in fiscal 2010.

That would include $151 million less for human services programs and nearly $189 million less for K-12 public schools. For higher education, the figure is nearly $97 million, and for prisons, it’s $41 million.

While the plans may include suggestions for program or facility closures, layoffs or other harsh steps, Kieckhefer said no decisions have been made yet. He added that legislators would be involved as budget priorities are set.

“What we receive back from these guys isn’t necessarily what we’re going to base our budget around,” Kieckhefer said. “But it’s a guideline we can use … to create the budget.”

Gibbons repeatedly has said he would oppose new or higher taxes as a way out of the fiscal crisis, although he recently said that he could support a deal that would result in higher room taxes rather than increased casino taxes – but only if Nevadans backed the idea in an advisory ballot question.


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