by Sean Whaley – Nevada News Bureau
Gov. Jim Gibbons said today he will deliver a special State of the State address to Nevadans on Feb. 8 at 6 p.m. to discuss Nevada’s budget crisis. He will also announce his intention to call the Legislature into special session to deal with a budget shortfall that is well over half a billion dollars.
“Just like families all across Nevada suffering to make ends meet, state government must live within its means,” Gibbons said. “It is irresponsible to spend money we don’t have; the state simply must reduce spending. The time for legislative hearings and other delays has long since past; it is time for decisive action and that is what I plan to do.”
A special session, which could last several days, is likely for late February or early March, said Gibbons spokesman Dan Burns.
The State Economic Forum on Friday projected Nevada will have $580 million less in major tax revenues in the current two-year budget than what was approved by the Legislature last year. The state’s obligation to maintain funding levels for public education will mean $200 million more Gibbons and the Legislature will have to cut or find to balance the budget.
“Citizens deserve to be informed and be a part of the solution to the problems our state is facing,” Gibbons said.
Only the governor can call a special session. The governor can also limit the discussion in a special session to a specific agenda.
Gibbons said meetings and discussions are being held to determine what legislation will be considered during the special session. Everything from reduced operating hours at certain government agencies, to education reform, to creating new revenue from waste recycling programs, is being considered.
State agency directors are meeting with the state Budget Office all this week to go over what programs and services can be cut to help balance the budget. Once those cuts are tallied, Gibbons will look to other alternatives to bring the budget into balance.
Gibbons has proposed eliminating mandates for all-day kindergarten and class-size reduction in the lower elementary grades as part of a budget-balancing plan. So far lawmakers have rejected such proposals for a special session, saying the budget shortfall needs to be addressed quickly and is not the time for a complex policy debate.
The Legislature will be asked by Gibbons to repeal a current Nevada law that makes the state ineligible to compete for federal school improvement funds so the state can apply for up to $170 million in one-time grants by a June deadline.
The size of the hole Nevada is facing in the current budget, which runs through June 30, 2011, makes layoffs of state employees a real possibility along with potential salary cuts and other drastic measures.
The state has thus far avoided laying off workers, while local governments have implemented some layoffs because of lower than projected tax revenues. Clark County laid off 67 workers, mostly building inspectors, earlier this month.