The forum projected $5.8 billion in revenue over the next two years. Add to that the $620 million in tax hikes Sandoval wants to extend and the total revenue almost exactly matches the $6.4 billion in spending that agencies have requested.
But that's because Sandoval's administration issued budget instructions to department heads earlier this year to keep their budget requests under a certain cap.
Sandoval instructed agencies to keep spending requests basically flat, and to include only mandatory increases above the 2011 budget such as utility costs and caseload growth.
But the 2011 budget, passed by the Legislature and signed by Sandoval, hasn't been without some degree of pain. Services to newborns to 3-year-olds suffering with autism, Down syndrome and other conditions had to be cut because of state budget constraints. Wait times for veterans to get state help to access federal benefits are at eight weeks, after Sandoval's budget in 2011 did not include two staff positions in Las Vegas. And schools across the state have had to reduce teaching positions and face rising class sizes, while headlines blare about Nevada's worst-in-the-nation graduation rate.
Sandoval is also constrained on the tax side. He has promised not to raise taxes above their current levels.
Still, the issue of transparency is bipartisan.
At an October legislative hearing, Democratic lawmakers brought up the fact that the additional agency budget requests were not being released.
Sen. Ben Kieckhefer, R-Reno, referred to the possible expansion of Medicaid, the state health insurance for the poor. It's a provision under the Affordable Care Act which the U.S. Supreme Court said could be optional for states, and a decision Sandoval is still weighing.
"My concern is this: Medicaid expansion has been penciled out, calculated, but if it's not part of the governor's budget, (that information) would not be public?" Kieckhefer said. "I have a problem with that."
Brenda Erdoes, Legislative Counsel for the legislative branch, said the administration had broken with the "historical interpretation of the statute" requiring governors to make public agency requests in October prior to the legislative session.
Mohlenkamp said at the meeting the budget office was complying with the law.
"There could be wish lists -- this could go on forever if you say, 'What are things people want that aren't included in the budget?'" he said. "I don't think it's fair to speculate on things that are not in the budget."
Nevada law says that on Sept. 1, agency budget requests should be transferred to legislative staff. It also says agency budget requests should be made public on Oct. 15.
On Sept. 1, legislative staff agreed to accept an electronic version of the budget from the Sandoval administration, to save on printing costs. At that time, legislative staff had access to the "items for special consideration" in the governor's executive budget system.
But on Oct. 15, when the agency budgets were supposed to be made public, legislative staff's access to the special items was shut down.
Smith, the state senator, said: "I think it's fair to the public, to the taxpayers, that we see what the actual requests are."
Distributed by MCT Information Services
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