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How Will Budget Cuts Impact Rural, Urban Communities?

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Associated Press

Lawmakers are meeting again for the eighth day of the special session in Carson City.

So far, expected cuts to education and health and human services have not been approved – but those decisions could come soon.

One thing that has been decided is a joint resolution asking the federal government to give the state more flexible funds to help balance the state's budget.

The state has received billions from the federal government through the CARES Act but that can only be spent on direct impacts of the coronavirus not to balance state budgets.

Assemblyman Howard Watts, a Democrat who represents a section of urban Clark County, proposed the resolution. He said it is time for the federal government to use its deficit spending ability to help out states that have to have a balanced budget.

“To me, that authority is really for times like this when they can dig in and help meet a national crisis. That’s what we’re asking for," he said.

Watts said the cuts the state is looking at will be "horrific" and will impact everyone in the state, which is why the resolution had bipartisan support.

“These cuts, that are purposed, they impact every single community in this state. Rural, urban, whether you’re a Democrat or a Republican, whether you represent workers or businesses, I think we can all agree that this support is needed,” he said.

Support comes from

However, Assemblywoman Dr. Robin Titus, a Republican who represents a rural area of Churchill and Lyon Counties, did not support the resolution at first. She called the idea "they height of Democrat hypocrisy" to ask for more money from President Donald Trump after criticizing his response to the pandemic.

“Asking for more money, without mandating that there’s not some transparency on where this money goes is just not sound fiscal policy. I’m quite frustrated already with where our monies have already gone,” she said.

In the end, Titus decided to support the idea because Congress would debate it and she supports whatever the president chooses to do on the issue.

If the money from the federal government doesn't come through, the cuts to programs like education and health and human services will be drastic.

They include $166 million in cuts to K through 12 education.

Watts said he has toured several schools in his district and they all benefit from funding from SB178, which provides funding for English language learners and schools in low-income areas. 

He said he is "deeply concerned" about possible cuts to that program and others. 

“Any solution that is based on cuts alone is going to have a disproportionate and inequitable impact on some of our most vulnerable members of the community,” he said.

And it looks like Medicaid will take a hit, too – Governor Steve Sisolak’s proposed budget plan includes a reduction in the amount the state pays health care providers.

Assemblywoman Titus is a medical doctor, who works in rural health care. She said cuts to reimbursements will be devastating.

“If we cut anymore to our Medicaid fund, we will not have any Medicaid providers,” she said.

Beyond that, she said the numbers lawmakers are looking at when it comes to Medicaid cuts haven't been properly vetted yet - so making a decision is tough.

Titus and the GOP caucus she chairs wants the governor to provide better financial numbers all around.

“We think there is money there on the table that they’re not bringing up. What we’ve asked from the governor is a better outline of really where the money is and how they chose certain cuts,” she said.

She is also concerned that proposed cuts to mental health services, elderly care and vaccination programs will do a lot more harm.

“What we’re looking at is making sure that whatever we take away doesn’t cost us money and lives and just overall health because we were very myopic,” she said.

One idea on the revenue side of the equation that has gained traction in Carson City is mining taxes. The rate on those taxes is capped by the state Constitution and it would take a constitutional amendment to change it.

Some people have suggested that instead of changing the cap, lawmakers can remove some of the tax breaks that mining companies get.

Assemblyman Watts said he was open to all kinds of ideas on increasing revenue.

“I’m open to all the options to meet the crisis that our state is facing," he said, "I don’t think these have to be either-or discussions. We can pass this resolution and urge Congress to send this relief, which wouldn’t just benefit the state government but also our cities, our counties, and tribal governments, at the same time that we continue to have those discussions on revenue.”

Titus, however, said that people believe mining is this cash cow for the state but it may not be.

“Yes, there are mines out there that are making a profit but there are many mines who aren’t making a profit,” she said.

Titus said the cost of doing business for mining companies need to be factored in when talking about taxing the industry.

Both Watts and Titus agreed that this special session is not the best time to start picking apart Nevada's tax code.

“Let’s come up with some solutions because the problem is now and then… at another time during the legislative session, we can really vet what really makes sense,” Titus said.

She is extremely frustrated with the pace of the session. The assemblywoman noted that it is costing the state thousands of dollars a day to have legislators and staff members in Carson City and the health risks increase the longer they're in session as well. 

Watts said lawmakers are working hard behind the scenes to make the best decisions for all Nevadans.

“We are working as hard as we can to come to a resolution that is going to do the best by the people of the state of Nevada,” he said.

Guests

Howard Watts, Assembly District 15, Clark County; Dr. Robin Titus, MD, Assembly District 38

 

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