Gov. Jim Gibbons signed an Executive Order in his office Wednesday morning establishing the Spending and Government Efficiency (SAGE) Commission. He also introduced his choice to head that commission, Bruce James. As the U.S. Public Printer in Washington, D.C., for a number of years, Mr. James has extensive experience in just this sort of exercise. James certainly appears to be the right man for the job, but it's the job description itself that raises a little skepticism for this fiscal conservative.
In his Executive Order the governor states that "a careful examination of state expenditures by an objective, neutral and bi-partisan body will help provide increased government efficiency and accountability and ensure that state government operates within its means and in a responsible manner." Now who other than a big-government liberal could argue with that?
But later, in the Executive Order, the specific mission of the commission is spelled out thusly: "The SAGE Commission shall make recommendations that will identify areas of government spending where savings can be found; identify areas where increased efficiencies in state government operations can be found; and identify means to improve state governmental services to citizens."
So the officially stated mission of the commission is to look for ways to make government more efficient. Fine. But as the late great conservative U.S. Sen. Barry Goldwater famously put it over 40 years ago, "I have little interest in streamlining government or in making it more efficient, for I mean to reduce its size." And the governor's Executive Order does not specifically state that the commission will look at various government departments, services and functions and determine if they are something the government should be doing at all in the first place. Or in Sen. Goldwater's words, reduce its size.
Like Sen. Goldwater, I want to reduce the size of Nevada's government. For example, is it really necessary, especially in these tough budgetary times, for taxpayers to continue funding an Equal Rights Commission? After all, we already have laws and courts to deal with illegal discrimination. And why is the Nevada state government funding an "Arts Council?" Or better yet, why are taxpayers funding 175.88 (.88?) government workers at the Department of Cultural Affairs?
And what about that "Culture of Pizza" course being taught in the taxpayer-subsidized Nevada System of Higher Education? And is it really necessary for Nevada taxpayers to shell out over a quarter-million dollars "to create an oral history of the Nevada Legislature"? Or how about $373,100 for the "acquisition of a portion of the Liberty Belle Antique Slot Machine Collection"?
Hopefully, reducing the size of government by eliminating such expenditures will fall under the category of identifying "areas of government spending where savings can be found." But even if the overall commission mission is simply to make government more efficient, I believe it will find plenty of ways for Nevadans to get a bigger bang for their tax buck without asking them for more tax bucks. Recall that a similar effort was undertaken by Gov. Kenny Guinn in his first term, which resulted in the privatization of the workers' comp system and a commensurate savings for both taxpayers and businesses.
Perhaps the most promising sign that the James Commission will find similar savings, other than the selection of the immensely qualified James to head it, is the stated criteria that commission members "shall be recognized, established business leaders, either active or retired, with expertise or experience required to carry out the mission" to make government more efficient. That would certainly seem to rule out anyone from the tax-happy, big-government luvin' Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada or the teachers union.
So fiscal conservatives and Nevada taxpayers should heartily support the James Commission. Heck, we might even get a tax CUT out of the deal. Best of luck, Bruce. You can borrow my meat cleaver anytime you want.
- Chuck Muth, of Carson City, is president and CEO of Citizen Outreach and a political blogger. Read his views Fridays on the Appeal Opinion page or visit www.muthstruths.com. You can e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.