Lawmakers likely won't have say in budget cuts

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Despite their claims they should have a say in where and how the governor makes budget cuts, members of the Legislature probably won't get a vote.

Under the Appropriations Act passed by the 2007 Legislature, the Interim Finance Committee gets to participate in making those decisions only if the state's Ending Fund Balance, the amount in its general fund checkbook, falls below $80 million.

The question raised is whether that balance is calculated before or after the reductions are figured. If measured before, the balance would almost certainly be less than $80 million. If after, it would be above that threshold.

Josh Hicks, legal counsel to Gov. Jim Gibbons, said his review of what Gov. Kenny Guinn did in 2002-03 indicates the reductions or reserves were calculated first. That kept Guinn above what was then a $50 million threshold and kept the Legislature out of the decision-making process.

In fact, in those minutes, then-Director of Administration Perry Comeaux stated that, as a result of the cuts, the ending Fund Balance would not go below that threshold.

Hicks pointed out that no one objected to that at the time, so it's his conclusion from that fact and a review of the law that Gibbons can do it the same way.

Sen. Bob Coffin, D-Las Vegas, said during the last IFC meeting that lawmakers have traditionally been involved in the process when cuts were necessary. He effectively demanded they be allowed to do so this time.

But veteran lawmakers and lobbyists say the Legislature wasn't invited to help decide where and how deeply to cut when governors Guinn, Bob Miller, Richard Bryan and Bob List had to reduce spending over the past 30 years.

"They read about it in the newspaper," said a longtime lobbyist and former state official who asked not to be identified.

During last Friday's hearing into whether a newspaper could demand the public release of agency budget recommendations, Director of Administration Andrew Clinger told Judge Todd Russell the public would get its chance to comment on the governor's planned cuts both at the Board of Examiners and then Interim Finance meetings.

Clinger didn't specifically say whether lawmakers would get to make changes to those cuts, but during the hearing, both Russell and attorneys agreed they saw nothing in the law saying legislators have a right to review the confidential recommendations by agencies before the governor makes his decisions.

• Contact reporter Geoff Dornan at or 687-8750.


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