The money committees entered a new phase of this legislative session on Tuesday when they started the process of closing budgets.
“It’s the beginning of the end,” said Assembly Ways and Means Chairman Maggie Carlton, D-Las Vegas.
She said the money committees are on track to finish their work by the end of the 120-day session and despite claims that the session is “messed up,” there’s nothing in the works that can’t be fixed.
The process always starts with the smaller and least controversial budgets — in this case the Secretary of State’s budgets.
“We don’t close the big ones until after the Economic Forum,” she said.
The forum meets May 1 to finalize revenue projections that lawmakers use to build the state General Fund budget.
That triggers final adjustments to the five major bills that define the state budget for the coming two years: the Appropriations Act, Authorizations Act, K-12 Education bill, state employee pay bill and the Capital Improvement Projects bill.
The General Fund will total about $8.4 billion this session and the five spending bills together about $25 billion.
But there are also numerous policy bills in the hopper this session that, altogether, seek hundreds of millions of dollars in additional spending.
“I’ve had conversations with all members and they understand that we fund government first,” Carlton said. “And I’ve told them just because we had a hearing on a bill doesn’t mean it will get a vote.”
She said she and Senate Finance Chairman Joyce Woodhouse, D-Henderson, are both experienced chairs and work well together.
After some discussion, a joint subcommittee of Finance and Ways and Means on Tuesday decided to approve the governor’s recommendation to provide the Secretary of State’s Elections Division $1 million over the coming biennium to implement the Automatic Voter Registration initiative approved by voters in November.
The decision directs the Secretary of State’s office and Department of Motor Vehicles to work to enhance the existing voter registration used by the two agencies to integrate information collected by DMV when they currently register a voter into the systems used by local county registrars.
That was one of four options presented to lawmakers ranging in price from zero dollars to $4.8 million it would have taken to develop a new statewide voter registration database.
The joint subcommittee included language in the decision requiring the Elections Division to keep lawmakers informed about how the process is going by reporting to each Interim Finance Committee meeting.
Budget closings will continue pretty much daily from now through the end of the session in June. The next major deadline is Friday April 12 when non-exempt legislation must win committee approval in the house where it was introduced. That is followed by the deadline for First House passage on April 23.