(Sean Whaley/Nevada News Bureau) – Gov. Jim Gibbons said today he continues to evaluate whether a special session of the Legislature will be needed to balance the state budget, but added he will avoid such a costly move if possible.
Gibbons said he can borrow money authorized to be spent next fiscal year to keep programs running this year as an option to avoid a special session. If this is a viable short-term solution, decisions on how to balance the current two-year budget could be put off until the Legislature convenes in February 2011.
“We can do some things that could hold off the requirement for a special session,” he said. “All of those are calculations we have to look at between now and beginning of December.”
Gibbons said he would like to keep state government spending as low as possible, and calling a special session, “costs us hundreds of thousands of dollars.”
The costs are primarily to hire additional legislative staff and pay lawmakers for serving in a session.
“We still want to make sure that we can keep the budget balanced without unnecessary expenditures,” Gibbons said.
But he also noted that if state revenues are expected to continue to deteriorate for several more months, action to bring the budget into balance may be needed now. If budget reductions are needed it is better to make those decisions as early on in the spending year as possible, he said. The current fiscal year, the first of the two-year budget, began July 1.
Gibbons took action early on in the previous budget to reduce spending when it became clear the economy was deteriorating.
Gibbons said he is still waiting on revenue data due at the end of the month before making a decision on a special session. That data will include the first quarter of information on the modified business tax and the real estate transfer tax.
“We want to see what the overall trend is,” Gibbons said. “We’re doing the best we can with the limited information we have. But we look at those trends, we look at those seasonal adjustment for those trends, and make a projection.”
If a special session is deemed to be needed, then the timing of it, and the agenda, will have to be finalized, he said. One issue Gibbons said he would like to take up in a special session would be to change Nevada law to allow the state to apply for federal stimulus funds aimed at improving student achievement.
Nevada cannot apply for a share of the $5 billion in “Race to the Top” funds because of a state law that does not allow student achievement data, such as test scores, to be used in evaluating teacher performance.
The law was passed by the Legislature in 2003 and Gibbons said changing it would be a “high priority” for him.
Only Gibbons can call the Legislature into session. He can limit the topics of discussion, but he cannot limit its length.