(Mark Waite/Pahrump Valley Times) – The only member of the Nevada Assembly to vote against the finance bill during the special session of the state Legislature that ended early Monday morning was District 36 Assemblyman Ed Goedhart, R-Amargosa Valley.
“I’ve taken some hits for it, but I’ve never been one to go along with the crowd,” Goedhart said.
“There’s only one guy crazy enough to take them on and that’s me. They’re starting to call me the Ron Paul of the Nevada Legislature. To me, I actually take that as a compliment.”
Assembly Bill 3 passed 41-1 in the assembly, the Senate passed the bill 17-3. It was signed into law by Gov. Jim Gibbons.
The finance bill grabbed money from a variety of funds — $25 million from a Clark County School District capital improvement fund; $7.6 million from the Millenium Scholarship Program; $62 million from the Clean Water Coalition; $197 million in unspent state funds in state agency trust accounts and from other sources to make up for revenue shortfalls.
The Legislature nonetheless cut funding for education by 6.9 percent, and funding for the Nevada Department of Health and Human Services was trimmed by 10 percent.
“We haven’t fundamentally restructured the state government, which we’re going to need to have happen,” Goedhart said.
Despite all the spending cuts, the state is still spending about the same as the last biennium, $6.9 billion, he said.
“Right now what we’re doing is kicking this budget grenade down the road, and it’s going to explode when we come into the next session of 2011,” Goedhart said.
“We’re setting ourselves up for a tremendous budget hole. The latest estimation is we’ll be $3.5 billion short going into the next biennium. There’s a number of taxes enacted in the 2009 session that automatically sunset. Beyond that, there’s almost $1 billion in federal stimulus money that will not be here next budget cycle, and the economy is continuing in its trough.”
Goedhart said the Legislature should have been prepared to stay in session another two or three weeks to put Nevada taxpayers in a better position. He said the amount needed to make up the $3.5 billion deficit would be a doubling of everyone’s taxes.
The Legislature has to adequately fund education and social services, Goedhart said, but he added, “We haven’t rolled up our shirt sleeves and gotten into the nitty gritty.”
A report by the Nevada Association of Counties noted a few impacts at the local level from the special session.
Counties were given authority to adjust hours of operation for various offices, like implementing a four-day work week, if county commissioners approve at a public meeting.
Fees for mining claims were raised. Besides a 6.9 percent cut in education funding, the budget for the Nevada Department of Health and Human Services was slashed, meaning a reduction in the number of people with disabilities who are provided personal assistance services.
There will be a 27 percent decrease in refunds to seniors through the Senior Citizens Property Tax Assistance Account.
Goedhart said the state could have cut the budget by amending laws on prevailing wages paid on state contracts, passing an emergency suspension of preferences built into contracts for certain groups like veterans and minorities and abolishing collective bargaining requirements for public employees.
“Most of these politicians are afraid to tell their voters the truth. So they tell them nothing but good news. But in the end it does the voters a disservice,” Goedhart said.