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STIMULUS IN NEVADA: Raggio presses Reid: 'We can't be required to give what we don't have'

Photo by The Associated Press

CARSON CITY -- Senate Minority Leader Bill Raggio, R-Reno, complained Friday that the "so-called sound stimulus package" being debated in the U.S. Senate will be of little help to Nevada because the state must spend hundreds of millions of dollars it doesn't have in order to qualify for key federal education grants.

"We don't have funding," Raggio told U.S. Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., in somewhat of a scolding tone during a conference call. "We can't be required to give what we don't have to qualify for funding. Otherwise it is of no value to us whatsoever."

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  • Raggio, R-Reno, said later that state government would have to spend $300 million more on higher and public school education to qualify for $509 million in economic stimulus grants for education.

    "You are crying wolf before the wolf is at the door," Reid responded in the call from Washington, D.C., with state legislators, Gov. Jim Gibbons and local government officials.

    Gibbons and other leaders are counting on the stimulus bill to help them fill big holes in the Nevada budget. Reid organized the call to 35 key officials to caution them the bill is not done yet. Some were on video hookups from Las Vegas and Carson City while others were on the phone.

    Reid urged the Nevadans to rally behind the stimulus bill and not lose sight of the bigger picture.

    "Listen," he told Raggio. "This is not all one program. You can't be against the whole program because you don't like what we've done with education.

    "I hope everyone would understand that if you can't meet the program we have talked about on education, there are a lot of other things in there," Reid said, mentioning support for renewable energy, boosting aid for Medicaid and helping handicapped students.

    "Is this going to be a package that everyone loves? Of course not. But it is something that is going to be overall so much better in creating jobs than our doing nothing," he said.

    Initial estimates say about $1.3 billion would go to Nevada from the stimulus bill, including $509 million for education and $220 million for highway construction.

    In Washington, Reid spoke from a Senate studio. Just off camera, a half dozen of his staff experts on housing, transportation, health care, education and the economy sat available to address detailed questions, underscoring the role of the Senate majority leader in forming the legislation.

    Raggio said afterwards that he spoke out of frustration.

    "I didn't get an answer other than I am crying wolf. He (Reid) ignored my question."

    The 37-year state senator said he supports Reid's effort to create jobs through renewable energy projects.

    "But putting a windmill on the top of a mountain next year isn't going to solve our immediate problems. I am not here to play games or help someone run for governor or the U.S. Senate. I am here to help solve problems."

    Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford and Assembly Speaker Barbara Buckley, both D-Las Vegas, said earlier this week that the Legislature must add $442 million to Gibbons' proposed higher education budget and $116 million to the public school budget to qualify for stimulus funds.

    State spending on education must rise because the stimulus plan prohibits grants to states whose school spending is less than that during the 2005-06 fiscal year. Under federal jargon, that's referred as "maintenance of effort" by states.

    Late Friday, Gibbons sent a letter to Reid and his colleagues asking them to provide a waiver or modification of the maintenance of effort requirements for "states like Nevada, which have been hit the hardest in this economic downturn." Gibbons' letter was a bipartisan effort signed by Buckley, Horsford, Raggio and Assembly Minority Leader Heidi Gansert, R-Reno.

    The Senate version of the bill has a provision for the secretary of education to issue waivers for states that cannot meet the effort requirement.

    But a Reid aide said it is doubtful Nevada would qualify for a waiver if it is going in the other direction and cutting back on education.

    "If the state is cutting by 35 percent, I think the secretary would decide that is not 'maintenance of effort,' " the aide said.

    Under Gibbons' proposed two-year budget, Nevada would spend $6.17 billion on all state programs, or 9.3 percent less than the $6.8 billion budget approved by lawmakers in 2007.

    In his proposal, Gibbons calls for a 36 percent cut in state support for higher education. And he cuts public school spending by 2.6 percent.

    According to a report by the National Conference of State Legislatures, Nevada's revenue decline is third worst in the nation, behind Arizona and New Hampshire.

    Reid said the formula requiring states to maintain school funding was reasonable.

    "We cannot just throw that money out there and let people do whatever they want with it," Reid said. "I don't think we are asking for too much."

    The formulas are designed to prevent states from backsliding on their commitments and then expecting federal money to bail them out.

    Reid said he spoke Thursday with school superintendents in Nevada's 17 counties, and other education officials, and he was told the federal requirement was doable.

    Raggio said he can't understand how county school superintendents told Reid the plan was "doable" when that is not the analysis of the legislative fiscal staff.

    Buckley said no one is sure how much more money legislators must restore to education to qualify for federal funds.

    "It is a very complicated formula. It could be in the tens of millions or hundreds of millions. We have a budget proposal with severe and unworkable cuts on education."

    Contact Review-Journal Capital Bureau Chief Ed Vogel at evogel@reviewjournal.com or 775-687-3901. Contact Stephens Media Bureau Chief Steve Tetreault at stetreault@stephensmedia.com or 202-783-1760.

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    Gale wrote on February 07, 2009 11:00 PM: I have been a CCSD teacher for 18+ years and was hoping to retire at 20 years (I am 55). With the cuts going on I'm devastated. They have suspended the "early-out retirement incentive program and yet, I have little incentive to keep on working!! I recently got my Master's plus 32 (even more) and now they want to take away that acheivment (and better pay)by reducing it 6%! How can I possibly recompense that? I may as well retire and find a better paying job. I would LOSE so much by staying!

    Patrick wrote on February 07, 2009 10:43 PM: S.M

    Aren't we being a little overly dramatic?

    Funding for higher education has been growing 3 times faster than inflation since 2001.

    Per pupil funding for K-12 education has been growing twice as fast as inflation since 1960.

    They're hardly underfunded...

    S. M. wrote on February 07, 2009 10:16 PM: If my college is cut, I will have no choice but to move out of Nevada. I will not allow my education, my daughter's education, and therefore our future to be destroyed. I worked too hard to be where I am to be defeated.

    Scott is ignorant wrote on February 07, 2009 10:15 PM: Scott, your ignorance is showing.

    There is such a right in the Nevada State Constitution. Look it up and learn.

    Scott wrote on February 07, 2009 10:10 PM: To the disgruntled college students:

    Too bad. There is no right to a secondary education. If Nevadas' colleges get too expensive, go elsewhere or apply for student loans or grants, and work your way through college like a lot of us did. Too many students now seem to thinking that everything should be paid for and don't want to work as they attend college.

    Vocational Schools provide a needed skill that pays pretty well, so that is a legitimate option instead of other college degrees.

    If you want to complete college, good for you. I do hope you succeed. But to expect the priviledge to be free is not the best train of thought. Having a degree doesn't mean you will be able to get a job with it, even a well-paying job.

    If college here is too expensive, go elsewhere.

    Major college sports bring in much-needed cash that colleges cannot do without. They bring in millions of dollars to support other functions of the colleges that would not exist if it wasn't for the revenue being generated. It's a crime that most of these athletes never get a degree.

    bob wrote on February 07, 2009 09:49 PM: get rid of tenure for professors would be a big help in reducing costs of education

    Cut_football_save_engineering wrote on February 07, 2009 08:34 PM: How can we ask serious students (like Tim L.) to pay more so that football majors from out-of-state can get a free ride?

    The University of Nevada's core & constitutionally chartered mission is to teach the next generation of applied scientists. Every other function is DISCRETIONARY. Cut the waste (hundreds of millions of dollars per year) and NSHE will have plenty of money leftover to teach the serious students.

    It's time to eliminate the indefensible waste such as CSN, DRI, $400K/yr football coaches, $1M/yr basketball coaches, liberal & fine arts departments, and so forth.

    Tim L. wrote on February 07, 2009 07:26 PM:

    I am yet one more student affected by these budget cuts. I am an engineering student watching my school on the brink of oblivion. If this goes the wrong way, I and many of my fellow students will be looking for another school to attend, even if it means a vocational school. This is completely ridiculous.

    James Madison wrote on February 07, 2009 07:20 PM: “The powers delegated to the federal government are few and defined. Those which are to remain in the state governments are numerous and indefinite. The former will be exercised principally on external objects, [such] as war, peace, negotiation, and foreign commerce. The powers reserved to the several states will extend to all the objects which, in the ordinary course of affairs, concern the lives, liberties, and properties of the people.”
    - James Madison, "The Federalist"

    SOVEREIGN NEVADA! wrote on February 07, 2009 07:12 PM: Nevada Legislature must introduce a resolution declaring state sovereignty under the Ninth and Tenth Amendment to the Constitution. Obama's 1 trillion dollar deficit mindless spending should be the last straw. We must become a sovereign state and get the Fed's out of our business. Recall all our D.C. representatives and let's not participate in this madness any longer. Nevada is a Free state and we won't tolerate this abuse from the Federal Government. Let's get ourselves state representatives that know what the hell is going on.

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