Hearing set on budget cut lawsuit

A Carson City court hearing Dec. 4 will determine whether state budget cut recommendations are public records.

District Court Judge Todd Russell is expected to hear arguments pertaining to the release of documents that show how each state agency could reduce its budget by 5 percent. The governor's office claims the documents are covered under deliberative process and privilege and therefore are not open to public inspection. A lawsuit was filed earlier this month by a Reno newspaper after Gov. Jim Gibbons' office refused to release the information.

The lawsuit states that "According to Gibbons' office, the reports will be withheld until after Gibbons met with state and local leaders."

The petition argues the documents aren't shielded "because they are not advisory opinions or recommendations. Rather, they constitute factual records of proposed budget cuts to various programs and agencies."

Director of Administration Andrew Clinger said last week those documents are not final plans for cuts but only recommendations. He said they are internal working papers.

Clinger said when the governor makes his decisions at the first of the year, those decisions will be made public.

Administration officials have said releasing all the recommendations before any decisions are made by Gibbons would invite political pressure from numerous constituencies trying to protect the programs which serve them and further complicate the process.

Judge Russell directed both sides to prepare legal arguments as to why the documents should or should not be public.

The agencies were told in mid-October to prepare recommendations by Oct. 29 on how to reduce their general fund budgets for this and the next fiscal year by 5 percent. The reductions are being planned because tax revenues, in particular sales and use taxes, are falling behind projections used to build those budgets.

Clinger estimated the state may need to take as much as $285 million out of the two-year budget passed by the 2007 Legislature - which is just more than 7 percent.

Several individuals and groups - most prominently the university system Chancellor Jim Rogers - have said they will refuse to comply with the request. But they don't have control since the state would make the reductions by simply not sending them all their budgeted funding.

• Contact reporter Geoff Dornan at gdornan@nevadaappeal.com or 687-8750.


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