Arberry warns executive branch over last-minute budget changes
The governor’s proposed budget got off to a rocky start before the Assembly Ways and Means Committee on Tuesday, leaving Director of Administration Andrew Clinger and his Budget Office deputy, Elizabeth Barber, trying to defend last-minute changes to the governor’s office’s operating budget.
Chairman Morse Arberry, D-Las Vegas, objected to the changes, saying neither lawmakers nor their fiscal staff has had time to review them.
Those changes included moving the governor’s energy adviser out of his budget and into the Energy Office budget, then adding two positions paid for with state money to that budget.
“They started out of the chute today with revisions,” Arberry said. “They’re revising the budget, and we can’t ask questions because we don’t know the changes they made.”
“We’re not going to play that shell game,” he said.
Barber explained that the governor’s energy adviser was being moved to the Energy Office budget because Gov. Jim Gibbons believes it belongs there.
Then, she told Ways and Means members, the governor decided to request state funding to continue two grants analyst positions, which were originally cut, because they are important to the program. They were cut because federal funding for them was eliminated.
Clinger told lawmakers the back-up material wasn’t provided earlier because those changes were just made by the governor’s staff Friday. He said back-up material to support the changes would be sent to legislative staff before the end of the day.
Arberry and committee Vice Chairwoman Sheila Leslie, D-Reno, said those changes simultaneously made the actual increase in the governor’s office budget look smaller, while increasing actual state costs by paying for two new positions out of the state treasury.
She said the net increase in the governor’s office budget, which is $5.57 million for the two years, is actually about 17 percent.
And even though one position was moving out of the governor’s office budget, Leslie said his total staff was increasing from 19 to 22 under the proposed budget.
Barber said the added staff members were “mostly related to constituent services.”
Lawmakers also raised questions about the decision to move $10,000 out of operating accounts for the Governor’s Mansion and into the mansion travel budget – then to ask that money be replaced in the operating budget for food costs during the rest of this fiscal year. The mansion’s budget for the two-year budget cycle is about $900,000.
Travel costs are historically a touchy subject with lawmakers who have had to deal with misuse of travel on state money by agencies in the past.
“Why are you asking for $10,000 for food when you would have had that had you not moved the money to travel?” Leslie asked.
Clinger said after the meeting that money would be put back in the mansion’s operating budget instead of the travel budget, eliminating the issue.
Arberry didn’t say he would oppose the changes.
But he told Clinger lawmakers need to be given more advance notice of budget amendments so they and their staff can properly evaluate what is being done.
“I wanted to send a message to them,” Arberry said. “We don’t want them coming in moving bodies from one budget to another at the last minute. They’ve got to get it together.”
• Contact reporter Geoff Dornan at email@example.com or 687-8750.