A Henderson official has objected to the cost of implementing state legislation, asking a committee studying local government finance to try do something about it.
Former Las Vegas Finance Director Marvin Leavitt said there's little local governments can do to stop the state from imposing "unfunded mandates" on local government.
Leavitt told Henderson Special Projects Accountant Phil Stoeckinger there is already a state law requiring any state law which costs local governments money to either include the money or a provision allowing local officials to raise it somehow.
"What happens is when they have a bill that has an unfunded mandate, they put in a provision that says it doesn't apply," Leavitt said.
The language was included in 88 bills in 1995, 93 in 1997, 40 in the 1999 session and 86 pieces of legislation during the 2001 Legislature. Legislative Counsel Brenda Erdoes said in an earlier interview her office puts the language in every bill with local fiscal impact. Otherwise, she said, legislation adding even a dollar to local government costs without specifying a source could be challenged legally.
Nevada Association of Counties director Bob Hatfield has fought unfunded mandates imposed on counties and the use of the exemption in proposed legislation for years. He has argued numerous times the exemption language subverts the intent of the 1993 law.
Stoeckinger told the committee the 1999 Legislation ordering cities and counties to cover all heart and lung ailments suffered by police and firemen as occupational injuries and the 2001 legislation doing the same for any case of hepatitis C will cost Henderson millions of dollars.
"Those are good things to do but we just don't have the revenue source to go with them," he said. "The amount of money you're looking at is huge."
Leavitt agreed it's a double-edged sword because the governor and Legislature can mandate local governments to do certain things but, at the same time, they control local government revenues.
"I agree with you that it's a serious problem," he said.
Leavitt said state officials are constantly complaining they get hit with unfunded mandates by the federal government.
"But then they turn around and do it to us at the local level," he said.
He said the only practical way of fixing the problem would be a constitutional amendment and that even states which have taken that approach are finding court decisions reduce their protection. He said Florida, which has a "home rule" provision in its constitution, is a good example.
"Gradually, over time, the courts have eroded that power and they're doing it on the basis that the Legislature has supreme legislative power," he said.
The issue is far from new even in Nevada where 82 percent of voters in a 1992 referendum made it clear they don't want the state imposing costly requirements on local governments without giving them a way to pay for them. With the vote fresh in their minds, the 1993 Legislature passed a law requiring lawmakers to provide a way for local government to pay for any new or increased cost it mandates.
But lawmakers have routinely evaded the rule by including the following language in legislation: "The provisions of subsection 1 of NRS 354.599 do not apply to any additional expenses of a local government that are related to the provisions of this act."