Initiative would bar lawmakers from imposing costly programs on locals | NevadaAppeal.com
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Initiative would bar lawmakers from imposing costly programs on locals

by Geoff Dornan

The Nevada Association of Counties wants voters to tell the legislature not to impose costly programs on local governments unless they also provide the money.

The association is asking every county in the state to put an advisory question before voters in November asking whether the Nevada Constitution should be amended to prevent the state from passing “unfunded mandates” to the counties.

According to director Andrew List, the question also asks whether the state should be prevented from taking away traditional county revenues to fund state needs. An example of that would be the repeated attempts by some lawmakers to divert traffic fines, fees and assessments now used to fund the state’s justice court system to education.

County officials say they would then have to come up with several hundred thousand dollars for each justice court they operate.

The issue was raised because of legislation passed by the 2003 Legislature which requires counties and cities to subsidize health insurance for their own retirees. For more than a decade, most counties, cities and school districts have been leaving their retirees to join the state health insurance plan.

Some of those retirees have been forced to pay up to $2,000 a month to get benefits because they don’t have any subsidy from their former employers.

The Legislature ordered local public employers to contribute at least the same amount per retired worker that the state does for its retirees.

But lawmakers didn’t provide counties, cities and school districts any way to pay the cost.

List said that isn’t the only unfunded mandate lawmakers have approved. In 1989, lawmakers made Nevada the only state to grant local police and firefighters automatic heart-lung benefits and more recently, a similar benefit for hepatitis.

Nevada law already requires lawmakers provide funding for the mandates they impose on local government. But each session several dozen bills are introduced which include a section exempting the legislation from that requirement.

County President John Milton said whether to provide retirees health-care subsidies is a policy question within the power of the Legislature and county officials aren’t challenging that.

The state strictly limits new taxes and fee increases county and other local governments are entitled to impose.

List said the state isn’t the only culprit. He said the association has also passed a resolution which asks Congress to provide full funding for the Help America Vote Act. And school districts are joining together nationwide to ask Congress provide money needed to implement the mandates imposed by the No Child Left Behind Act.

Contact Geoff Dornan at nevadaappeal@sbcglobal.net or 687-8750.