Charities could return unused largesse to ease state budget deficit | NevadaAppeal.com

Charities could return unused largesse to ease state budget deficit

John L. Smith
Las Vegas Review-Journal

Now wouldn’t that be awkward. Gov. Jim Gibbons has called on state agency directors to prepare for a two-year budget shortfall. Gibbons has tangled with University Chancellor Jim Rogers and Clark County Commission Chairman Rory Reid over his philosophy and spending priorities for higher education and social services.

The deficit has fueled promoters of initiative petitions calling for an increase in the state gaming tax from as little as 3 percentage points to as much as 20 points. The budget problem has given critics of the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, who want to shift room-tax dollars to the ailing general fund, a chance to wail.

It’s time to tighten belts, trim fat, and cut, cut, cut. After all, we are told, the state is experiencing a fiscal crisis.

So why isn’t the governor or one of his budget experts asking the favored charities that received millions in state tax contributions during this past session of the Legislature to return the unused largess?

It’s an awkward subject, to be sure, but it could be done. Not all the money has been disbursed.

It wouldn’t balance the budget, but every million helps. And we are talking about millions.

At the risk of being accused of playing the Grinch, or worse, I’ll remind readers of where a few million of their tax dollars went during the supposedly fat times we were experiencing just a few months ago. It’s a subject that still galls some of Nevada’s genuine fiscal conservatives, who were shocked when Gibbons called for the contributions during his January State of the State address.

I admire the folks at the Nevada Cancer Institute and encourage their cause every chance I get. But the NVCI received $10 million of supposed surplus funds. That includes $5 million for “expansion of laboratory and clinical space,” $2.5 million for “research and community outreach and education,” and $2.5 million for the same purposes in the coming fiscal year, according to the final draft of Senate Bill 443, the enabling legislation.

While I’m on the subject of great organizations, I love the good people at Opportunity Village. They provide a remarkable service for people in our community with intellectual deficits. They also were among the favored charities outlined in the State of the State and ended up receiving $3 million “for vocational training, employment and social recreation services” for its clients.

And there’s the latest addition to downtown’s vibrant redevelopment, the Lou Ruvo Brain Institute. Still under construction, the Institute’s goal is to contribute research that will help cure Alzheimer’s disease and other brain maladies. To that end, the Legislature made a $3 million contribution “for research, clinical studies, operations and educational programs.”

That’s only $16 million, but we’re just starting.

The SB 443 gift list is long: $2 million for the Institute for Neuro-Immune Disease for construction and furnishings, $1 million for High Sierra Industries for life skills training for the disabled, $1 million for Washoe Arc to aid those with developmental disabilities, $1 million for the Nevada Discovery Museum in Reno, $500,000 for the Lied Discovery Children’s Museum in Las Vegas, $500,000 for the Las Vegas Natural History Museum, $250,000 for the Clark County Education Foundation, and $150,000 for the Washoe County Education Foundation.

Surely they’re all worthy causes, but in a state scrambling to find places to cut, that last paragraph adds up to $6.4 million. The SB 443 total: $22.4 million.

Then there’s the pork buffet that was Senate Bill 579, but that’s grist for another day.

Frankly, I like those programs and personally don’t mind my tax dollars being spent this way. As long as there’s enough money, what’s not to like?

Of course, I never claimed to be a fiscal conservative.

Gibbons did.

It can be argued that these private entities can spend the money more wisely and produce greater results than government agencies, but that’s not the point. The point is, if you’re going to promise not to raise taxes, then you ought to not get all squishy when it comes to favored charities and certain anti-drug programs admired by the first lady.

It saves you from asking charities for the money back.

It’s also the difference between genuine leadership and feel-good politics.

• John L. Smith’s column, reprinted from the Las Vegas Review-Journal, appears on Thursdays on the Appeal’s Opinion page. E-mail him at smith@reviewjournal.com or call (702) 383-0295.