Amid bipartisan legislative calls for release of agency budget requests withheld by his administration, Gov. Brian Sandoval announced Thursday that by the end of next week he will release the list of “items for special consideration” — budget enhancements — sought by the agencies.“The governor has nearly completed his review of the items for special consideration and will release them no later than next Friday,” Chief of Staff Gerald Gardner told the Appeal on Thursday.Although those requests have been provided both to lawmakers and the public in the past, Sandoval initially refused to give them out this year saying that if those items aren't included in the budget he will soon submit to the Legislature they are just a wish list — in effect, working papers and not public documents.Lawmakers charged that refusing to give them and the public a full picture of what agencies believe they need in the coming budget is a violation of state law.“The governor is not entitled to pick and choose which laws he wants to follow,” Democratic lawmakers said in a statement this week.The full agency request are supposed to become public Oct. 15 during the process of building the governor's proposed budget, according to NRS 353.The “items for special consideration” were also listed as part of the agency requests submission in the budget instructions issued this year by Sandoval's Department of Administration.Democratic legislators this past week made it clear if the list wasn't released they would propose legislation to fix the problem.One of the most controversial items in that list is the projected cost of expanding Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. Originally estimated to cost the state upwards of $86 million a year, those projected costs may actually be as low as $18 million.Sandoval countered his office was in “full compliance with statutory requirements.” “As a former legislator, I respect the Legislature and its process,” he said. “However, it would be improper for me to give the Legislature and the public a false impression as to what may or may not be contained in my proposed state budget.“After I have had a full opportunity to consider agency wish lists and their budget impacts, I will gladly forward the agency wish lists to the Legislature.”The administration's rift with lawmakers came to light during an interim committee meeting in October, first reported by the Nevada News Bureau, an online publication, when legislators asked about the special budget requests. But it escalated this week with pressure on Sandoval by the state Democratic Party, reporters and political commentators.“The net impact of this is to hide — yes, hide — from the Legislature and the public what agencies have requested, only allowing the superior caste, aka the Executive Branch, to see what the governor has recommended,” wrote political journalist Jon Ralston. Sandoval's refusal also appears to conflict with the spirit of a law passed by the 2011 Legislature and signed by the governor implementing a performance-based budgeting system, a concept embraced by his administration. That bill, AB428, says the governor “may authorize or direct an agency to hold public hearings” on agency budget requests — a provision that doesn't require hearings but encourages public discussion.“One of the things we were trying to accomplish is to make more information an easier information available to the public,” state Sen. Debbie Smith, D-Sparks, a sponsor of the bill, said Thursday. “Truly the spirit of AB248 was about more access, more participation.“I was really hoping that (the administration) would embrace that ... to give the public a little more opportunity to weigh in on some of those budget areas.”
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