Agency chiefs are no-shows at budget meeting


CARSON CITY -- A clash between Gov. Jim Gibbons and lawmakers over who oversees state agency spending between legislative sessions intensified Wednesday when two agency chiefs deliberately missed a hearing.

On orders from Gibbons, Housing Division administrator Chas Horsey and Parole and Probation chief Bernie Curtis did not attend the first meeting of the Legislature's Committee for the Fundamental Review of the Base Budgets of State Agencies.

Several of Gibbons' top administrators expect that the committee will use subpoenas to get the information they are seeking.

Horsey's and Curtis' absences left legislators with many questions about how their agencies spend money.

Committee members unanimously voted to order the two administrators to appear at their next meeting, on Aug. 10, and in the meantime to answer all questions they raised Wednesday.

In addition, the committee voted to compel the Health Care Financing and Policy Division to respond by Friday to questions previously raised by legislative staff members. Fiscal analyst Mark Krmpotic said the agency has indicated it will not answer his staff's questions based on Gibbons' orders.

Both Curtis and Mike Willden, whose Health and Human Services Department manages the Health Care Financing and Policy agency, said they expect to be subpoenaed to comply with the committee's requests.

"We will see what happens with subpoenas," said Lynn Hettrick, Gibbons' deputy chief of staff. "What they (committee members) are doing is outside their purview. We think it is just a witch hunt."

Hettrick said the Legislature already has most of the same information about spending as the governor's office. He said ordering the agency directors to provide information that's already available simply would waste their time.

He said the legislative staff made ridiculous information requests, such as what happened to a police dog named Hilo during the 12-week period he was deemed unfit for service.

"Of course we kept him fed," he said.

Gibbons spokesman Daniel Burns said the governor hopes the committee issues subpoenas because it ultimately will end up with a judge ruling that the Legislature's Interim Finance Committee is unconstitutional.

"If they want to guarantee the IFC is declared unconstitutional, then they should send their subpoenas out," Burns said.

The Interim Finance Committee, created in 1969, is a group of 21 legislators who handles business for the entire Legislature when the Legislature is not in session. Under the state constitution, the Legislature meets in formal sessions for 120 days during odd-numbered years.

Over the years, many critics have questioned the legality of Interim Finance, but no one has made a court challenge.

The panel on April 29 named the Committee for the Fundamental Review of the Base Budgets of State Agencies and directed it to review spending of five agencies.

Gibbons, however, sent legislative leaders a letter June 24 in which he challenged the legality of the committee because it was created by Interim Finance, which he contends is unconstitutional.

Legislative leaders responded with a letter noting laws allowing creation of the fundamental review committee and mentioning it operated in the past without governors' objections.

But Burns said Wednesday that the Legislature can review state agency spending only during the 120-day formal legislative sessions.

If they didn't waste time during regular sessions, he said, they would not need a fundamental review committee.

"I cannot believe how many days they waste," said Burns, aware that legislators typically don't work on weekends and often take Friday off during sessions. "They say they need a meeting like this because they don't have time during sessions. That is a lot of crap."

Sen. Joyce Woodhouse, D-Henderson, never mentioned the word "subpoena" during the meeting Wednesday. She chairs the budget review committee.

But Woodhouse cited the state law, passed in 1995, that gave power to the Interim Finance Committee between sessions to name a committee to review state agency spending. That law gives the committee the right to issue subpoenas "to compel the attendance of witnesses and the production of books and papers."

If a witness refuses to testify, the committee can ask a district court to compel that person to cooperate.

Contact Capital Bureau Chief Ed Vogel at evogel@reviewjournal.com or 775-687-3901.