Higher education officials in Nevada have a big request for the next biennium – no more furloughs. These furloughs, or unpaid days off, apply to full-time staff, faculty and classified employees. Maria Sheehan, president of Truckee Meadows Community College, believes that the restoration of pay is long overdue: "We have lost opportunities for faculty to join us and stay with us; they get jobs where there are no furloughs."
This is the fourth year of salary reductions for state employees, leaders say. The Legislature during the previous biennium restored a 2.5 percent pay cut enacted in fiscal 2011 for all state employees at a cost of $50 million. But the 2.3 percent reduction enacted in fiscal 2010 through mandatory furloughs remains in effect.
Mary-Sarah Kinner, spokeswoman for Gov. Brian Sandoval, says these furloughs save the state an estimated $20 million a year, and the decision to eliminate them is a budgeting decision and would have to be up to the governor and state legislature.
Salary and benefits in the next biennium are a top priority for the University of Nevada, said Gerry Bomotti, senior vice president for finance and business at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, last week. However, eliminating this furlough alone would cost $3.8 million per year. Eliminating furloughs at smaller campuses like Nevada State College would cost around $207,131 per year.
The chances of this being addressed by legislature are a toss-up. Bomotti acknowledged that the state does not have a lot of extra money, but they are meeting their target. But what are the chances of the issue being addressed by the legislature?
Michael Richards, president of the College of Southern Nevada, is optimistic: "It's really early in the process, we'll have several sessions with the Economic Forum," he said. "Any guess at this point would just be that, a guess."
Leaders say they understand that the state still has financial limitations, but the furloughs are the most important item on their priority list for budget requests. Furloughs also create other challenges. Classified employees have less flexibility in taking furlough days, and more work goes into scheduling so it doesn't affect the operation of the campuses too badly.
Other items on the school officials' list are obtaining a cost-of-living adjustment and making changes to the public employees benefits package. The benefits were reduced in 2011 due to budget cuts and employees now only have two options, a High Deductible Consumer Driven Health Preferred Provider Option Plan or an HMO plan.
The schools are setting their budget priorities now for the Nevada system of Higher Education's budget request. Budget discussions will start in March, with the final meeting for approval set for August.