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State employees protest lack of discussion on tax increases to help balance budget

By ThisIsReno

By Andrew Doughman, Nevada News Bureau: About 50 state employees gathered in front of the Legislative Building today to call on Gov. Brian Sandoval to participate in a discussion about potential tax increases to help fund the state budget.

With the wind blowing at a steady clip, Vishnu Subramaniam, AFSCME Local 4041, chief of staff, said: “This is a great analogy of what’s going on in the state. They’re trying to blow us away while we’re providing services.

“We need a broad-based corporate tax,” he said. “We need to be having a talk about revenues. The talk of cuts is a red herring.”

Subramaniam said by not having a revenue debate, the state budget under review in the 2011 legislative session is focused on only one side of the equation: budget reductions.

Sandoval has rejected any proposals to increase taxes or fees to help balance the budget. He has submitted a $5.8 billion general fund budget that he says does not include any new tax or fee increases.

John Kinney, a custodial maintenance worker at Western Nevada College, held a sign that said: “Sloppy thinking equals quick fixes! Gov: you can do better!”

“I’d like them to take away the 5 percent cut and give us our furloughs back,” he said. “We’re getting cut more than anyone else. We’ve had furloughs for the last three years.

“I rented out my house because it was almost foreclosed on,” Kinney said. “If I wouldn’t have rented it out, I would’ve lost it.”

Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford, D-Las Vegas, spoke to the assembled group, saying the cuts proposed in Sandoval’s budget need to be given a human face to show how they affect nurses, social workers and the community as a whole.

Tough cuts are needed but, “we can’t dismantle Nevada,” he said. “We need to put Nevadan’s back to work.”

Asked to comment on the gathering, Dale Erquiaga, senior adviser to Sandoval, said the 5 percent pay cut being proposed for state workers is only slightly larger than the 4.6 percent reduction in place now. While state employees are also getting unpaid days off in exchange for the reductions, a practice that would be eliminated in Sandoval’s proposed budget, state government is a service industry and the needs of the public have to be considered, he said.

Erquiaga also noted that Sandoval is seeking the same 5 percent cut for public school teachers and university faculty as part of his “shared sacrifice,” although it will be up to school district boards and the Board of Regents to decide whether to implement such reductions.

“You can’t ask state employees to carry it all and have university faculty take none,” he said. “I think the state employees would agree with that.”

Erquiaga said there is no reason the Legislature can’t have a discussion of new taxes or revenues, but that lawmakers should do so early on in the session and in a public forum so the public can participate.

Not in the last hour of the session in the dead of night, he added.

Sandoval would not be opposed to a discussion with lawmakers about putting a tax increase before the voters, Erquiaga said. It would depend on the details: what type of tax increase, who would vote, and how long it would last,” he said.

“He has never said he would prohibit the public from voting on taxes,” Erquiaga said.

Capital Bureau Chief Sean Whaley contributed to this report.

Audio clips:

Sandoval Senior Adviser Dale Erquiaga says state government is a customer service industry:

021411Erquiaga1 :09 for them first.”
 

Erquiaga says Sandoval is seeking the same 5 percent salary cut for teachers and university faculty:

021411Erquiaga2 :07 agree with that.”
 

Erquiaga says Sandoval will not change his position against new taxes or fees:

021411Erquiaga3 :17 they don’t know.”

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