Frustrated by the lack of details about a growing number of new and expanded programs, Nevada's Assembly Democrats including Speaker Barbara Buckley are warning the administration they cannot process budgets without knowing how the money will be spent.
"It seems in hearing after hearing, we're talking about a concept," she said during Friday's Ways and Means committee.
Ways and Means Chairman Morse Arberry, D-Las Vegas, said that without detailed descriptions of how a program will work, what the money will buy and who will benefit, lawmakers can't spend public money on them.
"We can't ask any questions because they can't tell us any details," he said. "We only have 120 days and if we can't get answers, we'll just have to make our own decisions."
He said that may mean some of the governor's proposals go nowhere.
The issue was raised even before the Legislature opened for business during budget briefings. A key program proposed by Gov. Jim Gibbons is his educational "Empowerment" program which would give 100 Nevada schools much more autonomy in deciding how and what they teach. While Gibbons has repeatedly said that program has been very successful in Edmonton, Alberta in Canada and is being tried in several U.S. cities including New York and Houston, he and his staff have provided almost no details explaining how it would work.
In his overview of the governor's plan, legislative deputy Steve Robinson repeatedly answered questions about "Empowerment" by saying the governor's transition team was developing those details.
Gibbons' Chief of Staff Mike Dayton said with several of the last-minute changes Gibbons made to the budget, they are still working out those details. But he assured lawmakers the information they need will come with ample time for them to make decisions - including how "Empowerment" will be implemented and recommendations for dealing with the methamphetamine crisis.
Dayton said it's just one week into the legislative session and that Gibbons did make a number of changes to programs.
"The governor did make some last-minute decisions he thought in the best interests of the state," he said. "They want details and they deserve details."
Dayton said lawmakers will get the information they need. He also said Gibbons is planning regular meetings with both Democrats and Republicans in the Legislature to head off potential conflicts and develop consensus.
"They may not always agree with him, but he'll provide them the information they need to make informed decisions."
The lack of specifics even prompted Republican Senate Majority Leader Bill Raggio to serve notice lawmakers need answers not only about "Empowerment" but the impact on the incentive programs Gibbons was abandoning to fund it.
The lack of specifics was raised again Monday as Ways and Means began its review of the first executive budget presented this session - funding for the governor's office. Arberry asked why the committee and staff weren't told ahead of time about budget revisions which included adding two state-paid positions to the governor's office. Budget Director Andrew Clinger said his office wasn't told about those and other changes until just a couple of days before the hearing.
Friday the committee questioned Lt. Gov. Brian Krolicki's plan to earmark $5 million a year in unclaimed property funds for economic development. He said the money would be used to "leverage" investment capital to help economic development projects in Nevada. But again, lawmakers complained about the lack of specifics.
"It's a process, not a program or event," Krolicki said.
Arberry said the committee would want details before agreeing to the plan: "We need to know what your intentions are."
Ways and Means Vice Chairwoman Sheila Leslie, D-Reno, objected to the word "leverage."
Leslie said "leverage" to her means the state puts in some funding to get other funding such as a federal match grant.
"It sounds like you mean borrow," she said.
Krolicki said that was correct.
"I'd say it's very unclear what we'd get from Mr. Krolicki's program other than more debt," she said during a break in the meeting.
That was followed by a reference from economic development officials to a $5 million fund to help rural communities with economic development costs. When Arberry asked what that program was, Assemblywoman Heidi Gansert, R-Reno, referred to it as a "rainy-day fund for rural economic development."
Arberry said that was the first he had heard of that.
Buckley said there are too many of these "concepts" being presented without details of how they would work.
"People need to land on their ideas and get them drafted and get them in," she said. "Otherwise we're not going to have time to consider them."
Arberry said afterward he has no intention of making his members vote on programs without knowing exactly how they work, what the money will be spent on and how that will benefit the state and its people.
"I'm not going to be painted into a corner," he said.
• Contact reporter Geoff Dornan at firstname.lastname@example.org or 687-8750.
All hearings are open to the public.
• Senate Finance, budgets-office of governor and Gaming Control Board. Room 2134.
• Assembly Ways and Means hears budgets for lieutenant governor, gaming, PUC, nuclear waste and ethics. Room 3137.
• Assembly Judiciary will hear AB14, AB23 and AB44. Room 3138
• Senate Commerce and Labor Subcommittee meets. Room 2135
• Senate Judiciary hears SB30 and SB31. Room 2149.
• Senate and Assembly floor sessions
• Assembly Commerce and Labor hears AB24, AB34, AB35 and AB36. Room 4100.
• Assembly Natural Resources, Agriculture, and Mining hears AB31. Room 3161V.
• Assembly Health and Human Services hears AB60 and AB68. Room 3138V.
• Senate Human Resources and Education. Room 2135V.
• Senate Natural Resources. Room 2144V.
• Assembly Education. Room 3142V.
- Source: Nevada Legislature Online (www.leg.state.nv.us). All rooms are in the Legislative Building, 401 S. Carson St., Carson City, unless otherwise specified.