‘We’re closed’ Nevada lawmakers finish budget | RecordCourier.com

‘We’re closed’ Nevada lawmakers finish budget

by Geoff Dornan

In a Saturday session that stretched over four hours, the joint Senate Finance and Assembly Ways and Means committees finished closing the overall state budget for the coming two years.

And the budgets within it overwhelmingly closed just the way Gov. Brian Sandoval proposed them.

There were two significant changes. Lawmakers refused to split the Division of Parole and Probation, moving Parole to the department of Corrections. Lawmakers said it wasn’t well-justified and would cost the state money.

The other is the decision to add 37 staffers to the Nevada Early Intervention Services program. The governor had proposed that community providers take over 75 percent of those services to infants in need of help. The current split is about 50-50. Lawmakers were concerned that some of those specialized services might not be available, particularly in rural areas, so they left the split at 50-50 and added the necessary state staffing to cover the need.

Among the final budgets to go before the committees were some of the largest — including the Nevada System of Higher Education’s, at more than $972 million. That spending plan was finalized Saturday.

The K-12 Education budget was decided Thursday, including $2.8 billion in general fund cash plus enough other money — primarily from property and sales-tax revenues dedicated to the schools — to bring total state funding to just under $5.5 billion. Again: almost entirely the way the governor had recommended.

Together, those two budgets make up more than half the $6.5 billion in general fund dollars in a total budget that comes to some $17 billion — with most of the rest from the federal government.

“We’re closed,” said Director of Administration Jeff Mohlenkamp. “Until it’s re-opened.”

That comment references the fact that a number of advocates — including for the university system — are still working to find more cash for their programs.

After that, one of the largest pots of state money is for the Department of Corrections, almost none of which is paid by federal and other sources. A recent projection that lowered the expected number of inmates for the next two years saved nearly $30 million from what the governor originally recommended. The total Corrections budget approved by lawmakers comes to $594.3 million.

Other budgets that closed Saturday include those of Conservation and Natural Resources — which contains the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency — Public Safety, the Division of Child and Family Services and the Department of Motor Vehicles. DMV, unlike most of the others, is almost exclusively paid for by highway funds and fees collected from vehicle registrations and licenses.

One of the final decisions made Saturday was the addition of staff and funding for the state Budget Division and legislative Fiscal Division to work on the Priorities and Performance Based Budget system.

Sen. Debbie Smith, D-Sparks, said the budget office made a lot of progress with practically no funding over the past 18 months. She added that if lawmakers want to improve how they build budgets and develop ways to measure how well those budgets accomplish their goals, they need to put some money in the program.

“We can’t look for a better system of funding without giving it funding,” she said.

The so-called PPBB is intended to develop performance measures that tell the executive branch and lawmakers how well programs are working.

The committees voted to add a new analyst in the Department of Administration to manage the process — about $200,000 over the biennium — as well as $100,000 to pay for software development at the budget office.

An additional $124,875 was added to the Legislative Counsel Bureau fiscal division budget to help develop the program.

The funding was absolutely necessary if development of the Priorities and Performance Based Budget system is to continue, Mohlenkamp said.

Now staff has to reconcile all the various changes and decisions lawmakers included in the budget. Then the budget package — a series of five or six bills — can be introduced. Those include the Appropriations Act, Authorizations Act, K-12 Education, the employee-pay bill and Capital Improvement Projects bill.

By statute, that package must sit for three days before lawmakers can vote on it, giving all members time to review it and ask questions.

Under Nevada’s Constitution, the funding for education must be approved first.