Construction budget negotiations stall

Negotiations to finalize the state's capital improvements budget for the coming two years broke down at least temporarily Wednesday in a dispute between Senate Finance Chairman Bill Raggio, R-Reno, and Ways and Means Chairman Morse Arberry, D-Las Vegas.

The issue is whether the state should commit up to $20 million to construction this biennium the medical school's proposed Academic Medical Center project near downtown Las Vegas. The Larry Ruvo Center for Alzheimer's Disease and the Aging Brain is the first stage of that project. Ruvo, owner of Southern Wine and Spirits, has pledged to build the facility and turn it over to the state.

Beyond Ruvo's commitment, no funding is proposed for the Academic Medical Center in this biennium.

Assembly Speaker Richard Perkins, D-Henderson, refused to confirm the subject of the dispute, but did say the negotiations stalled because "there was a disagreement between Chairman Arberry and Chairman Raggio."

"It's that time of the session," he said predicting the two would work out their differences within a day or so.

The disagreement forced cancellation of Wednesday's joint meeting called to finalize the construction budget.

Neither Raggio nor Arberry could be reached for comment.

The purpose of the meeting was to choose projects for the remaining bond capacity and general fund money available to use for capital improvements. The university system has a number of construction projects on its wish list.

The money committees freed up some $45 million in bond capacity by eliminating or reducing other projects on the governor's proposed CIP list this week. The closed-door meetings are to work out how to spend that money and any other funds available for construction projects in the coming two years.

Perkins said despite the problems in Wednesday's meeting, settling the CIP list will be relatively easy.

"The bigger issue is the ongoing side of the budget," he said.

He said lawmakers hope to settle most of those disagreements when they meet this morning.

With less than two weeks to go, lawmakers are facing a deadline imposed by the mechanical process of building the final budget. The fiscal and legal staffs need about a week after the state budget is closed to make all the changes, additions and final calculations necessary to put it into law.

Since the state constitution mandates that the Legislature adjourn after 120 days - June 6 this session - that gives them only about six days to finish the budget, or face the specter of a short special session which would be very unpopular with the public.

n Contact reporter Geoff Dornan at or 687-8750.


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