Gov. Brian Sandoval's administration is keeping secret millions of dollars in spending requests submitted by state agencies for the next two years, breaking precedent set by prior administrations and possibly violating state law, legislators suggested.
Indeed, even Sandoval held to the practice two years ago, submitting the so-called "items for special consideration" to lawmakers and the public well before releasing his final recommended budget to the Legislature in January.
This year, however, Sandoval has elected to publicly release only the agency requests that fit within strict caps he issued as part of his budget instructions, and not what agencies said they needed to properly operate.
Some of the budget requests being kept under wraps by Sandoval this time include the cost to expand Medicaid, a politically tempestuous decision that would provide thousands of low-income Nevadans additional health care, but have short and long-term costs for the state.
Other agency requests are to restore programs that have been cut since 2008, such as those that help poor families afford child care, according to interviews this fall with state workers.
Many of the requests are likely as banal as new computers and vehicles for state agencies that have been operating under fiscal constraints since the economy took a nose dive in 2007, forcing agencies to scale back.
Still, lawmakers from both parties said they wanted to see an honest accounting from state agencies on the ground, who run the state's parks, prisons, and programs for the poor and disabled.
"I think legislators and the public should know what the requests are from agencies, what the real needs are," said Sen. Debbie Smith, D-Sparks, the chair of the Senate Finance Committee. "It puts our staff, and ultimately legislators, at a severe disadvantage to not have that information."
Sandoval's top staff would not be interviewed for this article. Agency heads said they have been instructed not to talk about the "items for special consideration."
Neither the state budget office nor the governor's office would release total supplemental requests by agencies. Outside experts, though, have estimated Medicaid expansion alone would cost the state tens of millions of dollars in administrative costs over the next two years.
In a statement, budget director Jeff Mohlenkamp said the governor's office is following the law.
"Since the budget process is very fast-paced and dynamic in nature, we asked agencies to identify potential enhancements that could be considered by the governor in the event that revenues allowed for additional expenditures to be considered," he said.
Some agency requests, he said, could never be made public.
"These items are not public unless they become part of the governor's budget," he said.
Sandoval, who is up for re-election in 2014, has built a rosy budget narrative heading into next legislative session, where he has promised not to cut K-12 education and to protect social services for the poor, while not raising taxes above their present levels.
Last week, when the Economic Forum issued revenue projections that Sandoval is required to use for his proposed budget, the forecast seemed to be tailor-made for the spending proposals state agencies have already put forth.
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