Legislative branch seeks $75 million budget | NevadaAppeal.com

Legislative branch seeks $75 million budget

The legislative branch of government is asking for a budget totaling nearly $75 million over the next two years.

And that doesn’t include the estimated $18.5 million it will cost to run the 2007 Legislature.

The Legislative Counsel Bureau request totals $74.7 million for the biennium. That works out to an 11.4 percent increase over the current two- year budget of $65.5 million and more than double the $35 million LCB budget approved by the 1999 Legislature.

If approved, the request would bring the total permanent staff at LCB to 317. That is more than half-again the roughly 200 permanent staff for the legislative branch in 1999-2000.

The budget request was accompanied by one-shot and capital construction requests totaling more than $39 million, the majority of it a proposed $30 million legislative staff office building.

LCB Executive Director Lorne Malkiewich said the increases are almost completely driven by the workload put on staff by the 42 members of Nevada’s Assembly and the 21 senators. And that workload, he said, is generated by requests from the public.

He said staff is handling far more requests from lawmakers, especially during the interim between sessions.

But the requests met with some skepticism from members of the LCB budget subcommittee. Chairman and Senate Majority Leader Bill Raggio, R-Reno, pointed out the state is very close to the statutory spending cap and all agencies are being asked to rein in requests.

In that climate, he made it clear LCB was unlikely to get the total 27 additional permanent staff and three special staffers the statutory health-care committee requested. At his suggestion, the committee recommended approving just seven of the 16 requested administrative staffers and one of four added staffers sought for the research division.

Raggio and Sen. Randolph Townsend, R-Reno, also questioned the special staff request for the health-care committee which, if approved, would raise the two-year budget for that interim committee to more than $700,000.

Senate Minority Leader Dina Titus, D-Las Vegas, also questioned the large budget proposal saying statutory committees conducting business year-round appear to her “as a way to circumvent the constitution.” She reminded fellow lawmakers Nevada’s Legislature is supposed to be a part-time body, not full time.

Malkiewich said the majority of the increase this budget cycle is in the administrative division which supports the work of the other LCB divisions with everything from janitorial and maintenance services to information technology. Total spending there would exceed $20 million – a 23 percent increase.

He said part of the increase in staff and spending can be attributed to the transfer of the state printing office from the executive to legislative branch.

The legal division’s budgets would increase more than 21 percent to about $19 million and the Research Division 17 percent to just under $10 million. Budgets for the Audit and Fiscal Analysis divisions were essentially flat.

The committee also raised eyebrows over the $30 million staff office building, deciding instead to ask only for $3 million in planning money to review needs of the legislative branch into the future, including a new office structure. Raggio said if a large surplus materialized they might consider funding that project this session.

Raggio made it clear the committee wasn’t necessarily supporting the budgets as proposed, but simply agreeing to send the requests on for review by the full Legislature next year.

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