Think We Have it Bad? Look East

For Californians who feel they are part of an
Alice-in-Wonderland budget process, check out what’s going on in the
neighboring state of Nevada. Governor Jim Gibbons recently announced
some draconian solutions to the state’s $1.5 billion budget shortfall.

The
one most shocking is a 40+ percent cut to the university system
budget. Imagine the reaction here in California to a cut of nearly
half the spending for higher education.

Board
of Regents head Jim Rogers likened the governor’s approach to asking
people to live in a house that had been half burned out in a fire,
saying that a house without key parts such as the kitchen or bedrooms
was really no house at all.

The University of Nevada, Reno campus has taken an
unusually heavy hit – a recommended 47 percent budget cut – that has
caused Berkeleyesque protests from UNR students and NIMBY complaints
from the community’s political representatives.

According to the Reno Gazette-Journal,
Assemblyman David Bobzien, D-Reno, said students would have to shoulder
a 225 percent tuition increase to cover the funding shortfall from the
governor’s budget cuts.

The
newspaper quoted Bobzien as asking students: “… do you think a budget
that includes a 47 percent budget cut to the University of Nevada, Reno
is a vision? ”

“No!” the crowd roared.

It
seems clear that the governor has laid out a radical budget designed to
stimulate some heated discussion. In fact, the governor started that
dialogue himself during his recent State of the State address to the
legislature when he guaranteed that a safety net would remain in place
protecting Nevada’s poorest and urged the state to find alternatives to
the gambling industry in order to protect its future. He specifically
suggested that the state’s entrepreneurs focus on environmental
businesses such as green energy development.

What’s particularly interesting about the cutbacks in
higher education is that they directly impact the type of research that
drives the innovation required to create green businesses. Silicon
Valley would not be the source of so many technological advances
without the presence of UC campuses in Berkeley, Davis and Santa Cruz
(and, of course, Stanford, which is not subject to the state budgeting
process). So how does Gov. Gibbons think that green industries will
supplant gambling as the number one business in Nevada without strong
research universities? Maybe he’s just throwing the dice.

There
will be plenty of negotiating before a final budget is drawn up, and
the governor surely expects challenges to his priorities. Then again,
Nevada has never been as friendly toward education as has California,
and its state universities have not brought the kinds of advances to
the world that have come out of the UC’s. So it’s hard to gage how
serious the proposed cuts really are.

One
thing is certain, the Nevada level of cuts to higher education would
bring a storm of protests throughout California. Meanwhile, we
Californians can get some relief from our own budget angst by watching
our much smaller neighbors struggle with its own unique set of
problems. It makes us look so almost sane by comparison.