Ensign says state can't absorb proposed education cuts

Although he said he can't tell Nevada lawmakers what to do about how to balance the state budget, Sen. John Ensign, R-Nv., said Thursday the state can't absorb the kind of cuts in the governor's proposed budget " especially in education programs.

"You can't effect the kind of cuts that are being proposed for education," he said following a Thursday address to the Nevada Legislature.

Ensign said he believes there's some fat in every budget and that the current crisis has helped both business and government identify places where they can make reductions. 

He said a good example of finding waste is McCarran International Airport which he said managed to cut 20 percent from its budget without layoffs.

"If you're forced to look for waste, you'll find it," he said. "If you're not forced to look for waste, you won't."

But he said he doesn't believe there is a huge amount of waste in the state budget.

"There are people trying to tell me there's no waste in education," he said. "In every budget, there is waste. Obviously I don't feel there's 37 percent waste."

Specifically for higher education, Ensign said, "realistically you can't have close to 50 percent cuts." He said he doesn't think Gov. Jim Gibbons believes the university system can survive those cuts either.

He said schools can do much better with the money they receive if they have more flexibility " especially in getting rid of teachers who aren't performing well.

"The fact that we can't get rid of bad teachers in Nevada is outrageous," he said. "It's not just the money. It's a question of what you do with the money."

While Nevada's senior Senator Harry Reid, D-Nv. has said he opposes giving Nevada a waiver of requirements it add money back to higher education in order to qualify for education Stimulus funding in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Ensign said he supports the waiver.

Without the waiver, Nevada would have to put $267 million back in the university system's budgets to meet that maintenance of effort requirement.

"I do support the waiver," Ensign said.

Reid repeated his opposition during an interview Wednesday.

Despite rumors generated after he made a political address in Iowa, Ensign said he's not a presidential candidate.

"I am not looking to run for President," he said, adding that "you never say never."

Ensign said his focus politically is to help rebuild the Republican Party in Nevada. He said that includes recruiting minority and women candidates.

"You can't be a Lilly white party," he said. "You'll be a minority forever."

Ensign said he continues to believe the Stimulus package won't stimulate the economy and, therefore, is bad legislation. But he said given it has passed into law, he will fight to make sure Nevada gets its fair share of the money.

He said is other objection is the huge debt being added to the federal deficit which future generations must pay off.

"What we're doing to our children and grandchildren is immoral," he said.


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