Nevada gov outlines budget-preserving efforts following attacks
CARSON CITY, Nev. (AP) – Gov. Kenny Guinn said Thursday his efforts to preserve Nevada’s tourism-dependent state budget following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks have expanded from a hiring freeze to postponed spending on new programs.
In a televised, 10-minute-long ”state of the economy” speech, the Republican governor also said he told his cabinet and department heads to drop plans for any nonessential state travel.
”The state has managed its money and is well-prepared to weather this storm,” said Guinn. ”Yet we must also buckle down in other areas to ensure protection of our people.”
”Make no mistake, despite these necessary measures, I am confident in the stability of our economy and the determination of our people. Like every challenge before, Nevadans will work hard and overcome all adversity both personal and financial.”
Guinn said the state’s ”rainy day” account is fully funded and now holds nearly $140 million in reserve; and an unemployment trust fund is well over $500 million. The fund is used to pay benefits to jobless Nevadans.
Guinn also said there are emergency reserve balances in welfare and other public assistance programs and at the Department of Transportation if needed.
The governor also said he has ordered a waiver of time-consuming restrictions on unemployment benefits, and authorized training of 40 new staffers to help process new jobless benefit requests.
He repeated comments made earlier this week to state lawmakers that he has asked banks and mortgage firms to consider easing payment schedules so that Nevadans who lose jobs don’t also lose their homes.
Guinn said he also asked Nevada’s utilities to expand programs that help people who can’t pay their utility bills; and is meeting with major health care providers to ask that jobless Nevadans don’t lose health care benefits.
The governor said he’s working with the federal government to ensure Nevadans on welfare don’t lose childcare and housing benefits; and is asking university regents to consider tuition assistance for displaced workers who need retraining.
He also said the state, working with the Culinary Union, is involved in a program to ensure laid-off workers can go to one location and get information on all groups and agencies that provide aid.
Guinn had announced the freeze on all but health and safety-related hiring during a Tuesday meeting of the Legislature’s Interim Finance Committee.
The freeze affects 400 new state positions authorized by the 2001 Legislature. That includes 87 positions that were to be filled Oct. 1.
The postponed program spending announced Thursday affects new programs authorized by the 2001 Legislature but not yet started. Guinn said at a news conference following his speech that most of the delayed programs are new state building projects. He didn’t identify them.
The governor also praised Senate Majority Leader Bill Raggio, R-Reno, and Assembly Speaker Rich Perkins, D-Henderson, for delaying any contingency spending by the IFC for at least a month.
The budget-preserving steps will give Guinn more time to get accurate information on the impact of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the East Coast.
While there was an immediate slump in tourist traffic due to a brief ban on air travel following the attacks, casino win numbers for September don’t have to be turned in to the state Gaming Control Board until late October.
The same delay is expected for September’s sales tax figures. Together, the two revenue sources generate three-quarters of the money for the state’s budget.
Guinn said he’ll try to get earlier estimates on the September revenues. That would mean possibly by mid-October.
The governor also said he didn’t want to overreact by taking any immediate drastic action. He added it’s ”very premature” to be talking about a special legislative session, although that would be needed to tap into the state’s ”rainy day” fund.
Reduced spending to keep the budget balanced will put more pressure on Guinn and the 2003 Legislature to find more tax revenue to balance what some critics have termed a ”backwater budget.”
Even without a recession, Guinn’s economic advisers have predicted a $1 billion budget shortage in about eight years if government spending continues on its current path and no new revenues are generated.
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