he Control Board, which has 460 employees to police Nevada’s biggest industry, would lose 32 positions under Governor Jim Gibbons’ proposed budget. The current annual budget of us$ 43.5 million would be reduced by 12 % next fiscal year and an additional 1.2 % in fiscal 2011.
Control Board Chairman Dennis Neilander told the Assembly Ways and Means Committee on Friday that most of the employee reductions would come in the audit and enforcement divisions. The audit division conducts an examination of major casinos every 2.3 years. The loss of the staff would push that to every three years. The audits can determine if a casino hasn’t paid enough taxes or is due a refund.
“Usually we’re assessing more taxes,” he said. ”It’s not normally because there is any intention to not pay the correct amount. It’s because someone along the line made a mistake.” Assembly Speaker Barbara Buckley said it doesn’t make sense to cut the audit division, which can generate extra money for the state.
On the enforcement side, Neilander said, the loss of enforcement agents will mean a smaller presence in casinos, where they resolve disputes between patrons and the casino over payouts, among other things. I’m “not sure how we will deal with it,” he said of the proposed reduced enforcement staff.
Neilander said he started to hold positions vacant a year ago as the economy softened and now has 27 vacant positions. One question that has lingered since Governor Jim Gibbons proposed reducing the pay of state workers and teachers by 6 % is whether school districts — bound by contracts with their teachers unions — could carry out such a cut. Members of a legislative budget subcommittee tried unsuccessfully to get an answer Thursday.
Assemblywoman Debbie Smith, chairwoman of the budget subcommittee, said such a move would be difficult because there are 17 school districts in Nevada, each with its own union contract. Jim Wells, deputy superintendent of administration in the state Education Department, said some districts’ contacts expire in June, as the state’s fiscal year ends. That would seem to make a pay cut possible.
Still other districts are talking about using their leftover money to offset any reduction in state funding, officials said. Senate Minority Leader Bill Raggio, said salary reductions for state, school district and university employees may be necessary and nobody likes that, but there has to be “some give-up” until the economy improves.
“We are in a difficult time and no one has suggested yet where we would get the additional revenue” to avoid the cuts, he said. “We better face the reality that some cuts are necessary.
“As one legislator, I’m not impressed and I think it’s not right when local government officials or public sector associations say ‘We’re digging our heels in and we’re not giving up anything.’ This isn’t the time for that,” Raggio said. “This is the time for all of us to work together.”
Legal opinions would have to answer whether such cuts can occur, said some lawmakers and the state’s top education official. Accepting the Yucca Mountain project won’t bring Nevada a “pot of gold” as some have claimed, former U.S. Senator Richard Bryan told lawmakers last week.
Sun columnist Jon Ralston has reported that a group of Northern Nevada businesspeople is forming the Nevada Business Alliance to push for the high-level nuclear waste repository in exchange for benefits.
Bryan, one of the first to lead the fight against Yucca Mountain, told a legislative committee that Governor Jim Gibbons’ plan to reduce the staff — from five to two employees — in the office that leads the state’s fight would “send the wrong message,” that Nevada might be giving up its fight against the dump.
The Nuclear Projects Agency’s us$ 2.4 million-a-year general fund budget would be lowered to us$ 1.4 million under Gibbons’ plan. Bruce Breslow, chief of the state Nuclear Projects Agency, said it’s a “mythical folk tale” that accepting Yucca Mountain would pay for a bullet train and new highways.
To those who suggest Nevada would benefit by accepting the dump, Breslow said the “money is not there.” He said he has asked pro-nuke advocates and they cannot identify any money to offer the state in exchange for accepting the repository.