(Sean Whaley/Nevada News Bureau) – Assembly Minority Leader Heidi Gansert said in an interview today that GOP agreement to include a new fee on banks in the final budget deal approved by the Legislature early today was in exchange for support for keeping Nevada State Prison open.
Gov. Jim Gibbons had proposed to close the aging facility as part of his budget cuts, but the move was opposed by many lawmakers because it would mean the layoff of 136 state employees and cause further economic problems for the capital city. Public safety was also cited as a concern.
“In the end it was somewhat of a trade for Nevada State Prison to tell you the truth,” Gansert said on the television program Nevada NewsMakers. “Nevada State Prison has been in limbo for quite some time. We can’t seem to figure out whether to close it or not.”
Closing the prison would also have resulted in maximum capacities at other Nevada correctional facilities as inmates were relocated, potentially creating the need to build a new expensive prison to handle inmate population growth, she said.
Assembly Speaker Barbara Buckley, D-Las Vegas, proposed the new banking fee that ultimately was part of the budget agreement. The new fee will create a foreclosure mediation program for small businesses. The fee was originally proposed at $500 per notice of default, but ended up at $200. It will raise about $13.8 million.
The savings from closing the prison was about the same amount of money: $13 million, so the bank fee was included as an offset, Gansert said.
“It’s a tough choice; it’s not something that any of us supported,” she said of the bank fee. “But in the end we felt that we needed to relive some of the uncertainty and give us some more time on the state prison.”
Ultimately six of the 14 GOP Assembly members, including Gansert, voted for the bill to balance the state budget, including the new bank fee. The bill passed both houses of the Legislature and is expected to be signed by Gibbons, who helped craft the budget agreement.
Gansert called the new fees in the bill “a pittance” compared to the budget cuts and other maneuvers, such as sweeping various agency bank accounts, used to balance the budget and erase an $800 million-plus shortfall.
In the interview, Gansert also expressed concerns about a last-minute measure approved by the Legislature to create road construction jobs. Senate Bill 6 passed both houses of the Legislature in the final hours of the six-day session. It will use existing taxes, including a one-eighth of a cent sales tax in Clark County, to finance a bonding program for road construction.
“That bill was a very last-minute bill,” she said. “I know we had a mixed vote out of the Assembly. My concern was there was no check on it. It became an evergreen for a sales tax and an evergreen for some other taxes.”
Gibbons amended the special session proclamation to allow for consideration of the proposal, which was crafted by Assemblyman Kelvin Atkinson, D-North Las Vegas.
Gansert and four other Assembly Republicans opposed the measure. It received unanimous support in the Senate.
Gansert called the proposal “very unusual” in that no other approvals were required to go forward with issuing the bonds.
“Typically with anything related to bonding, you either have a time frame or a cap — and both of those were gone,” she said.
Gansert said another objection was to a provision giving the Nevada Department of Motor Vehicles the authority to raise its own agency fees. The Legislature has not previously given the agency the ability to change its fees through regulation, she said.