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Gibbons’ office clarifies order barring agencies from working with lawmakers

In what Chief of Staff Robin Reedy described as a clarification, the governor’s office Friday moved to soften its order last week requiring state agencies to get Gibbons’ permission before dealing with lawmakers and their staffs.

Assembly Majority Leader John Oceguera, D-Las Vegas, charged that the order was not only inefficient and a disservice to Nevadans, but “quite probably illegal.” Assembly Minority Leader Heidi Gansert, R-Reno, objected to the order, saying state law requires employees to provide certain information to lawmakers. Senate Minority Leader Bill Raggio, R-Reno, termed it inappropriate.

In a letter to Oceguera, Reedy agreed clarification is needed to ensure everyone knows the directive wasn’t intended as a “gag order.”

“It is a way of managing limited resources and balancing the needs of taxpayers with the requests of the (Legislative Counsel Bureau) and the legislators,” the letter says.

Reedy said the intent was to coordinate requests that would require lengthy research and agency time.

“However, requests that fall under the respective agency’s core mission and anything that concerns public health and safety will be handled directly by the agencies and their directors,” she wrote.

Oceguera said the letter is a positive move by the administration.

“The bottom line is we’ve got to communicate,” he said. “Stifling that communication doesn’t help. If they’re suggesting we have better communication I’m all for it.”

Legislative Counsel Bureau Director Lorne Malkiewich said he was glad the letter made clear there won’t be a problem with LCB staff doing their job in areas such as audits, which is a statutory responsibility of the legislative branch.

When the original order was issued, the governor’s staff said the directive was necessary because responding to some legislative requests were very time consuming.

While Friday’s letter softens the ban, Reedy made clear there are still concerns.

“While the legislature may engage in the performance of executive duties and functions incidental to the scope of legislative duties, it cannot interfere with or exercise any powers properly belonging to the executive branch,” the letter states.

It says the legislative branch has, over the years, encroached on some of that authority.

The letter also questions the amount legislative spending has increased over the past 14 years. In 1996, the letter says lawmakers controlled a budget of $13 million. By 2009, she said, the total had grown to $40 million. Reedy said total appropriations under legislative control since then come to nearly $800 million.

Malkiewich and Oceguera both pointed out that a significant piece of the total under control of the legislative branch is in the Contingency Fund which, while managed by the Interim Finance Committee, isn’t money the legislature spends on itself. He said it is money spent on agency programs with the approval of the Board of Examiners and IFC.

“The requests come from the executive branch,” he said. “IFC cannot initiate a contingency request. The Board of Examiners initiates those. And it is spent by executive branch agencies.”

The Contingency Fund varies from year to year according to what pots of money to fund programs and construction projects are put there pending approval by the Board of Examiners and IFC. But in several recent years, that fund had more than $30 million in it.

“Out of the $800 million, I think $250 million plus of it was contingency money,” Oceguera said. “I honestly didn’t really understand what she was trying to get at on that.”

He said another piece of the growth in LCB spending is the $3.7 million a year in the state printing office budget. State printing was an executive branch agency until the Legislature took over that function in 2004.

Malkiewich said all printing expenditures are fees for printing services which are appropriated to the legislature, Supreme Court and executive branch agencies.

Overall, he said, the LCB budget is just under $30 million a year and the total cost of the 2009 legislature another $20 million – a total of $80 million for the biennium.

“Out of a $6.3 billion budget, that’s about 1.3 percent of the state budget for the legislative branch,” he said.