Lawmakers seek analysis of who controls budget cuts

The chairman of the Legislative Commission agreed Wednesday to ask the Legislative Counsel to prepare an analysis of what legal authority lawmakers have to intervene and participate in state budget cuts.

But not without a rebuke for Sen. Bob Coffin, D-Las Vegas, who has been demanding to be involved in that process.

Coffin has repeatedly said he believes the Legislature has legal authority to make the final judgment on where and how deep budget reductions should be in the face of revenue shortfalls.

"It is wrong to cut these budgets without the Legislature's approval," Coffin told members of the Interim Finance Committee a week ago.

Coffin also told the press he had sent Sen. Randolph Townsend, R-Reno, chairman of the commission, a letter asking leadership to sue the governor over the issue. When Townsend rejected that request, Coffin said he would attend Wednesday's commission hearing to make his point.

Senate Minority Leader Dina Titus, D-Las Vegas, told Townsend that Coffin had to leave because of an illness in the family but asked her to pass along his toned-down request for a legal analysis of the issue.

Townsend agreed to have staff do that analysis, then asked Titus to, "Tell Sen. Coffin that next time he alerts the press to a letter he sends to the chair, he might want to send it to me sooner than a week after he announced it to the press."

The budget shortfall is now projected at $564.7 million. To cover that, Gov. Jim Gibbons has ordered agencies to make $263.8 million in cuts to operating budgets, $27.4 million from Capital Improvement budgets and $23 million from one-shot projects.

Budget Director Andrew Clinger said the state can use the $5.1 million Grant Sawyer office building settlement and $13.3 million in unappropriated general fund money to cover part of the deficit.

Finally, the governor plans to take $232 million from the Rainy Day Fund next January to complete the package.

Coffin has been arguing the Rainy Day money should be taken immediately to try protect state agencies from having to make those operating reductions. He has said if the economy improves, it might not be necessary to make the cuts and that the Rainy Day fund shouldn't be protected at the expense of state services.

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

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