Annual sessions for one reason: budget

Many good arguments can be made against annual sessions of the Nevada Legislature, but there is one good argument in favor.

We have seen this year a monumental struggle over the budget, with nearly all other business pushed to the sidelines while lawmakers grapple over spending and taxing.

While the stakes are higher this time around, thanks to Gov. Kenny Guinn's opening proposal for $980 million more in spending, figuring out the state's budget is always going to involve the most important decisions legislators are asked to make.

With one giant flaw: It's always a wild guess.

That's because the Legislature is setting a two-year budget -- the "biennium." The figures being debated now will stand until 2005.

Back up the process to state department heads, and we see the formation of this budget actually began last year. It takes nearly three years for the results of those decisions take shape.

Think how the world has changed in two years. World Trade Center. War in Afghanistan. War in Iraq. Stock market skid. Corporate bankruptcies. The list is a long one.

It's a good thing for state bureacrats to plan three years ahead. It's impossible for them to be fortune-tellers.

The Nevada Legislature gets around this issue by appointing an Interim Finance Committee. It does a reasonably good job, but it's not the full, elected Legislature. In effect, every other year the majority of the Legislature hands its most important work to a subcommittee.

So the argument for annual sessions is this: Convene in the even-numbered years for 30 days with nothing else allowed on the agenda but the state's budget. Do one thing, and do it well.

A current proposal, Assembly Joint Resolution 7, which has cleared the Assembly, is not the solution. For one thing, it expands the current calendar to 140 days. That's not what voters decided.

For another, it sets a 45-day session in the between years with no restrictions on topics.

We don't need more laws. We simply need a budget which deals with reality.

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