Officials, lawmakers: Revenue ‘shifts’ being done for wrong reason
County officials say Gov. Brian Sandoval is balancing his budget on their backs by shifting programs and costs to them without having the discussion about who should do what and how it should be paid for.
Sandoval’s budget would move some $117.2 million in costs from the state to local governments, either by making them pay for programs now operated by the state or ordering the counties to take over state run programs.
“It’s not being driven by a collaborative process where the people who provide the services get together and decide how it could be done better,” said Bob Hadfield of the Nevada Association of Counties.
He and B.J. Selinder of Churchill County said the move to shift services to the local level without providing a way of funding them flies in the face of the advisory question opposing “unfunded mandates,” which he said was approved by more than 70 percent of voters in just about every Nevada county.
Both men said the governor’s plan should have started with a policy discussion ironing out how best to provide the services involved, many of which are mandated and for the disabled, mentally ill and the poor.
“We need to establish means what level of services we want and what level are we willing to pay for,” Selinder said.
Instead, Hadfield said, the decisions were driven purely by the budget shortfall.
Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford, D-Las Vegas, agreed the discussion should begin with who should provide what services and how.
Horsford said he and Assembly Speaker John Oceguera, D-Las Vegas, are beginning those efforts, meeting with University Chancellor Dan Klaich and, early last week, with local government managers as well as the governor’s representatives.
“We need to discuss how you do it, where you do it and do the counties have the capacity to do it,” Horsford said. “You can’t just make the decision to move the service and take their money and not talk to them about how it would work.”
That echoes what Selinder said as well: “We need to have some control over the ability to pay for these services, which means the state has to give up it’s iron fisted control over how we prioritize services.”
Oceguera said in Tuesday’s meeting with local government managers, he and Horsford had “a frank discussion with them about who should be providing the services.”
He called for “a fundamental reset of the way government works.”
Hadfield said he has been calling for that discussion for well over a decade without success. He said instead the state has based its policy on what it hoped was an endlessly growing revenue stream fueled by tourism and growth, and questioned whether anything meaningful can be done in the three remaining months of this legislative session.
Director of Administration Andrew Clinger, however, said the policy questions of who is best to provide different services was part of the discussion in building the governor’s budget.
“That was the premise I gave (HHS Director) Mike Willden,” Clinger said. “Come back with recommendations that make sense.”
Clinger said his office also considered whether the state should continue to provide certain services but require the counties to pay for them – one example being providing pre-sentence investigation for the courts.
Clinger said he is also working with Assemblywoman Debbie Smith, D-Sparks, on her bill to create a performance-based budget. He said many of the same elements are contained in the Priorities of Government document presented in January by his office.
Sen. Sheila Leslie, D-Reno, said the pre-sentence investigation costs are a good example of something that, maybe the counties should pay for, but the state should manage so they are consistent. She said there are a number of areas where the state needs consistency, not 17 different county approaches to a problem or need.
Leslie said, however, she believes the entire package of shifts in these programs is “clearly being driven by the need to reduce state expenses, not by whether it makes sense or not.”
“We’re asking local governments to take on huge responsibilities with no extra money by July,” she said adding that the likely result will be serious disruptions in services.
Among the services the state will continue to provide but make counties pay for are Elder Protective Services, pre-sentence investigation costs, Assistance to the Aged Blind and Disabled, the Medicaid waiver, Mental Health Court, child developmental services, child protective services and youth parole. Altogether, those changes save the state, and impose on counties, $76.7 million.
The Sandoval plan transfers responsibility for $40.5 million worth of services to local government including child support enforcement, emergency welfare assistance and juvenile justice programs, medical care for tuberculosis and sexual diseases and the Senior Citizen Property Tax program.
Horsford said what is best for Nevadans needs to drive the policy decisions and, hopefully, improve rather than damage services to Nevadans. He said he was confident lawmakers and the governor’s office “can have open, honest and frank discussions about what makes the most sense,” and get the job done by June.
But Leslie and Oceguera both questioned whether there is enough time left in the 2011 legislative session to accomplish that goal.
“There’s no time to talk about this,” she said.
“One hundred twenty days goes quick,” said Oceguera.
That concern was echoed by Carole Vilardo of the Nevada Taxpayer’s Association.
“You’re dealing with very emotional type issues, not leaving a lot of time to really get into serious policy discussions,” she said. “You wind up dealing with public perception and how it translates into political palatability.”