The Board of Regents of the Nevada System of Higher Education faces difficult choices Tuesday as it seeks a way to get college and university employees the full amount of a raise that they were promised. The big issue: Getting employees their full raises may require cutting budgets somewhere else.
Governor Steve Sisolak promised all state employees a 3 percent raise as he took office this year. He asked the Legislature to approve spending $31.3 million from the state’s general fund for the raises this year, along with another $31.6 million from the general fund next year.
The request sailed through the Senate Committee on Finance and the Assembly Ways and Means Committee as they nailed down the details of the state budget on May 17.
But after the Legislature wrapped up its work in early June, NSHE officials announced that the budget didn’t include enough money for the raises.
NSHE needed $15.9 million per year for the raises. It got $12.7 million instead.
After reassuring employees that the Regents will work to get the money for the full 3 percent raise, NSHE now needs to find $6.4 million to cover the gap.
One possibility under consideration has been a request to the Legislature’s Interim Finance Committee — which meets in the interim until the full Legislature is back in session in 2021 — for approval of enough money to cover the first year of the raises. The full Legislature then would be asked for the money to cover the second year.
The Nevada Faculty Alliance, which believes that Sisolak and the Legislature need to honor their promise, is adamant that the money shouldn’t come from student fees or from cuts in instructional budgets, says Kent Ervin, a chemistry professor at the University of Nevada, Reno, who serves as the group’s legislative liaison.
The alliance also has called for a public explanation of the causes of the shortfall. While neither the Governor’s Office nor the Legislative Counsel Bureau have taken responsibility for the error, some observers say privately that the $6.4 million error may have happened this way:
The state usually provides cash to cover 80 percent of the cost of employee raises. It figures that some positions will be vacant, and so it doesn’t need to come up with all the money.
But the cash allocated to NSHE for raises amounted to only 64 percent of the cost. Observers noted that someone might have taken the 80 percent figure, believed that it represented the full amount, and multiplied it again by 80 percent. And 80 percent multiplied by 80 percent gets exactly 64 percent.