Two top spokesmen for Nevada Gov. Jim Gibbons on Wednesday refused to give lawmakers access to agency recommendations on where to cut the budget.
Director of Administration Andrew Clinger told the Interim Finance Committee those recommendations are "accountant working papers" and confidential. He said that is the same thing he told a newspaper reporter who demanded access to the recommendations.
The newspaper, the Reno Gazette-Journal, has sued arguing the recommendations should be public.
Sen. Bob Coffin, D-Las Vegas, said the recommendations "are submissions from agencies and submissions from agencies are public records."
"We disagree that these are public records," Clinger said. "These are working documents."
"Until we make final decisions on these recommendations, we will not be releasing that information," he said.
He said the attorney general's office as well as the governor's legal counsel Josh Hicks agree.
Hicks said they spent a significant amount of time on the legal issue. He also expressed concern that releasing those recommendations to legislative staff could compromise the state's position in the newspaper lawsuit.
But Legislative Counsel Brenda Erdoes said she believes they are something the Legislature is entitled to.
Coffin also said four previous governors had to make cuts and that the Legislature was in on the process every time. That, however, was disputed by several longtime observers who all said none of those governors invited lawmakers to help decide where and what to cut.
"The Legislature wasn't involved. They read about it in the paper," said one veteran.
Administration officials have expressed concern that releasing the recommendations before any actual decision on what and how much to cut has been made would just invite advocates and lobbyists to attack the process, putting political pressure on Gibbons from every side.
The exchange followed another disagreement as legislative fiscal staff challenged Clinger's use of sales tax numbers over the past year to justify the need for budget cuts.
According to those figures, taxable sales have been down every month for a year in key categories including building supplies, restaurant and bars, home furnishings. In building supplies and construction materials, the drop has been double-digit every month.
Assembly Fiscal Analyst Mark Stevens said the actual drops are probably much less than those figures seem to show because, just over a year ago, the Department of Taxation changed the classification system to a much more detailed set of categories.
He said valid comparisons can be made for the past three months because that system had been in place a full year by then.
"Before then, we don't have apples to apples," he said.
One example is the furniture category where, according to the administration numbers the month-over-month decline has been over 50 percent in nine of the past 12 months. Under the old system, that category included not only furniture but household electronic products such as TVs. Under the new system, those products are in their own category, reducing the amounts in the "furniture" category by a significant amount.
Clinger, however, said he made efforts to ensure that, "the information presented here is an apples to apples comparison."
Assembly Speaker Barbara Buckley, D-Las Vegas, asked Clinger to provide some backup information on the issue so lawmakers can better understand what is happening.
• Contact reporter Geoff Dornan at email@example.com or 687-8750.