Anti-tax group caught again bending the facts

Opponents of increased taxes have been accused of bending the truth for the third time in less than three weeks.

A memo by Director of Administration Perry Comeaux says claims by more than one lawmaker that the new budget adds 916 positions over the biennium is "absolutely wrong."

Both Assembly Minority Leader Lynn Hettrick, R-Gardnerville, and Assemblyman Bob Beers, R-Las Vegas, have used that number with Hettrick describing it as "obscene."

"The 916 new positions must be reduced by the existing positions that the Legislature eliminated," said Comeaux in a memo to lawmakers.

When that is done, the net increase is 567 new jobs -- a 3.5 percent increase in a total state work force of 16,665.

Deputy Budget Director Andrew Clinger said that counts all positions whether paid for by the general fund, fees, highway fund money or federal grants. He said only 35 percent of the new positions are paid for by the general fund, while 70 percent of those which were cut are general fund.

"When you do the math, the total number of general fund positions actually went down," said Clinger. "Not a lot -- about 35 -- but still it's a reduction."

The issue of whether those positions are paid for by the general fund or some other source is important because the battle in the Legislature is over how much must be raised in new taxes to balance the general fund budget. Non-general fund spending is detailed in a completely different piece of legislation, which more than two-thirds of the Legislature supported.

Hettrick and others say the state general fund budget must be called back and cut before they will allow a tax bill through.

Gov. Kenny Guinn says that's not going to happen and that lawmakers should vote to fund the budget they have already passed.

Comeaux's memo follows Guinn's objections last week to full-page ads in newspapers throughout Nevada that challenged his statement that schools will suffer if taxes aren't approved. The ads, one of them signed by Hettrick, said the money to run schools comes in through existing taxes every day, and that school won't suffer if the tax plan is held up.

Hettrick has said Guinn should find some way to fund schools first with existing revenue streams then make cuts elsewhere while the budget battle is resolved.

Guinn said he can't change where money goes in the budget or disburse money to schools until the Distributive School Account budget is approved. And he said that budget can't be approved until taxes to pay for it are approved.

"The negative impact on our schools of this budgetary impasse is not imaginary but real," Guinn wrote.

School officials say the lack of a budget is already hurting their ability to hire teachers for the fall and may cause problems in July with year-round schools and summer classes.

In addition, less than three weeks ago, the Nevada Taxpayers Association released a collection of calculations designed to show how much the budget has grown, in spite of the budget crunch. Among the claims was that the university system budget increased more than 42 percent. University officials countered that the general fund increase is about 24 percent.

Vice Chancellor for Finance Dan Miles said the rest of the increase is in tuition, fees, grants and other revenue the university system receives.

In addition, Clinger said the association calculation failed to include millions of dollars in salary increases given to university system employees and all other state workers two years ago. Leaving that out artificially reduces the 2002-2003 budget, making the 2004-05 budget look like a much larger increase.


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