Gibbons: Budget is Legislature’s problem
March 18, 2009
Gov. Jim Gibbons told lawmakers asking about his proposed amendments to the budget that, basically, the ball is in their court now.
The governor’s letter, addressed to Interim Finance Committee Chairman Morse Arberry, D-Las Vegas, brought a sharp rebuke from Arberry.
Gibbons’ letter, dated Monday, was in response to questions asking how the administration planned to deal with declining room tax revenue projections, among other issues.
Room taxes are now expected to come in nearly $60 million under what Gibbons budgeted for.
“The Nevada Constitution requires that I propose a balanced budget to the Legislature before the commencement of the regular session, which I did in January of 2009,” the letter states. “Once that budget is proposed, it is up to the Legislature to decide whether to accept or modify that budget.”
In the letter, Gibbons says revenue projections will undoubtedly change several more times during the session.
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“If the Legislature wants to address each and every change in revenue projections, then that is certainly the Legislature’s prerogative as the budget is in the Legislature’s control at this point and the Legislature has its own fiscal staff,” Gibbons wrote.
He said he will provide further recommendations in an amendment addressing stimulus money after the Economic Forum finalizes revenue projections May 1.
Communications Director Dan Burns confirmed that is the governor’s position.
“When the budget was sent over January 15, it was balanced,” he said.
He said the budget is now the responsibility of lawmakers.
“It is the Legislature’s budget now,” he said.
Arberry, chairman of Assembly Ways and Means committee, responded in a letter to Gibbons Tuesday, saying that in more than 20 years in the Legislature, he had never heard a governor disassociate himself from his own budget after submitting it.
Arberry said the Constitution requires the governor to submit a balanced budget and that all previous governors have recommended adjustments during the session.
“However, your letter indicates that the governor’s responsibility concerning the state’s biennial budget ends when it is submitted for review in advance of the legislative session,” Arberry wrote. “I believe you are the only governor in at least the past 30-40 years that would make such an assertion and I strongly disagree with your position.”
“I am unaware of a governor who has refused to balance the biennial budget he has recommended for legislative review, based on new information or changing economic conditions, and submit the required budget adjustments to balance estimated revenues and expenditures.”
Arberry urged the governor to submit proposed adjustments to the budget as soon as possible. He said May 1 is too late since most of the budget has to be built by that point in the session.
“Waiting until the final 30 days of the regular legislative session to begin reviewing potential budget adjustments as well as beginning the time consuming task of closing budgets is unrealistic,” Arberry wrote.
He said if the governor doesn’t submit amendments, the Legislature will be forced, for possibly the first time in history, to make those decisions without input from the governor.
He said the lack of response and lack of information from the governor’s office is “most disturbing and unprecedented in my 15 year tenure as chairman of the Assembly Committee on Ways and Means.”
Chief of Staff Josh Hicks offered a more nuanced interpretation of Gibbons’ message:
“The governor simply indicated that he was unwilling to make ad hoc
recommendations to the committee on Ways and Means with respect to declining room tax revenues, preferring to make those recommendations formally by way of a budget amendment.”
He said that amendment would come soon and that the governor would be ready with further recommendations after the Economic Forum meets May 1.
Budget Director Andrew Clinger said he had responded to the questions raised by Ways and Means, he added Arberry might not have been aware that an e-mail had been sent to the fiscal division Monday night sometime after 7 p.m.