Nevada Gov. Jim Gibbons is calling a special session of the state Legislature to delay pay raises for government workers in efforts to ease a budget crisis and revenue shortfall expected to top $1 billion by mid-2009.
The governor on Friday announced the session, scheduled to start June 23 and run for up to five days, following a meeting with other state officials and legislative leaders on Thursday " a meeting that ended with some lawmakers opposing the idea of such a session.
Gibbons, who sets the agenda for special sessions, said he decided that one was needed anyway because "a budget crisis of this magnitude should not be addressed by only a few selected leaders."
Senate Majority Leader Bill Raggio, R-Reno, who on Thursday had questioned the need for such a session, said Friday he talked with the governor following his earlier comments and decided that deferring the scheduled 4 percent pay increases was the only way to avoid layoffs.
By deferring the raises, scheduled to take effect July 1, the state would save about $130 million in the coming fiscal year. That includes nearly $40 million for state employees and state university-college system employees and about $90 million for similar raises for K-12 teachers.
"Unbelievable. Unbelievable," said Assembly Speaker Barbara Buckley, D-Las Vegas. "It's apparent that the governor wants to change the message away from his text-messaging, because this idea makes no sense."
Gibbons, who wants a divorce from his wife, apologized Wednesday for using a state-owned cell phone to send more than 860 text messages over several weeks last year to another woman. A new poll, released Friday, showed him with a low 21 percent approval rating.
Buckley said the raises for K-12 teachers can't be withheld in most cases because of contracts that school districts already have negotiated with the teachers. She said that means the districts will be forced to cut programs for children.
Assembly Ways and Means Chairman Morse Arberry, D-Las Vegas, said he heard about the special session from reporters rather than the governor, and considered the plan "a boondoggle."
"To blindside us at the last minute now that he has a bright idea, come on," Arberry said. "He can call this, but I have not bought off on the idea. There's no proof that by taking away these raises it's going to fill the budget void."
"We are facing the worst fiscal crisis in the history of the state," Gibbons said, adding that "the only responsible action is to convene the entire Legislature so that all can participate in crafting the solution and all options can be considered."
"Calling a special session is never a popular decision with the Legislature," Gibbons said. "However, all the elected members of our government share this obligation to the people, and we will fulfill this important responsibility together."
The governor and lawmakers already have approved 4.5 percent budget cuts for state agencies, along with delays in one-shot appropriations and construction projects and tapping the state's "rainy day" fund for fiscal emergencies.