(Sean Whaley/Nevada News Bureau) – An effort by the Nevada Legislature to undertake a fundamental review of several state agency budgets with an eye to improving efficiencies and saving money began yesterday without support from Gov. Jim Gibbons or his staff.
The first meeting looked at two programs: the Parole and Probation Division and the building lease program administered by the Division of Buildings and Grounds. The six-member Legislative Committee for the Fundamental Review of the Base Budgets of State Agencies conducted the review without administration officials present at the meeting, however.
State employees were following the directive of Gibbons in a letter sent to lawmakers Friday saying executive branch staff would not participate in the review. Gibbons has questioned the motives of the committee and cited the separation of powers doctrine as reasons for his directive to staff not to participate.
Legislative leadership from both parties sent a letter to Gibbons last month citing state law that requires participation by administration staff. The issue remains unresolved, however.
Despite the apparent lack of cooperation, the panel voted to send an inquiry to the agencies on the agenda to answer several follow-up questions raised by the information prepared by legislative staff. The panel also voted to request the presence of several administration officials at the next meeting.
Assemblywoman Debbie Smith, D-Sparks, said the requests are being made by the panel without any indication yet if the executive branch staff will respond or attend the next meeting.
Smith said there is no desire on the part of the Legislature to engage in a protracted legal battle with Gibbons, who is leaving office in January. Legislative leadership, in its letter sent to Gibbons in June, said the panel could subpoena administration officials but Smith said lawmakers are dealing with the impasse, “one day at a time.”
Even so, Smith said she was disappointed and frustrated by Gibbons’ decision, noting that a lot of time could have been saved if administration officials had been present at the meeting to answer questions.
“Just a conversation at the table could have solved a lot of issues here today, just as we see at any other hearing,” she said.
Senate Minority Leader Bill Raggio, R-Reno, said he is disappointed at Gibbons’ decision not to cooperate with the review. In all his years of legislative service with six different governors, there has always been a willingness by the executive branch to work cooperatively with lawmakers in between legislative sessions, he said.
Lynn Hettrick, deputy chief of staff to Gibbons, said the panel is not doing a real fundamental budget review but instead is “nitpicking little bits here and little bits there.”
Finding savings within the agencies reviewed today would have a miniscule effect on the $3.5 billion hole the state faces in the next two-year budget cycle, he said.
“We ought to be looking at things that truly are a fundamental budget review about how can we fix the issues that we have facing us,” Hettrick said. “To us this is a waste of time right now.”
Hettrick said the request by the panel to have staff testify and provide more information for the next meeting will be reviewed.