Gibbons can hire fiscal aide


CARSON CITY -- The Legislature's Interim Finance Committee has no legal authority to act on Gov. Jim Gibbons' decision to spend $257,000 to hire a Clark County deputy recorder to oversee Nevada's receipt of $2.2 billion in federal stimulus dollars, the governor and one of his top aides said Friday.

"I don't know how they can act on it when we have already done legally what we needed to do," said Deputy Chief of Staff Stacy Woodbury. "We moved forward."

Woodbury said Democratic Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto gave her a "verbal opinion" that Gibbons can secure and spend American Recovery and Reinvestment funds without approval of the legislative committee.

A spokeswoman for Masto said Woodbury is correct, based on rules set out in a 2008 attorney general's opinion given to the governor.

Woodbury said her office sent requests to state Controller Kim Wallin earlier this week to approve money to hire Charles Harvey and an assistant to oversee the use of the stimulus funds.

Instead of processing that request, Wallin sent the matter to the Legislature's Interim Finance Committee, which scheduled an 8:30 a.m. Monday hearing to discuss the expenditure, according to Woodbury. The committee is a group of 21 legislators who make financial decisions during the interim period when the entire Legislature is not in session. The full Legislature does not meet against until 2011.

The committee is meeting to discuss work programs already approved under Nevada law, Gibbons said. "The IFC is wasting time and taxpayers' money."

Also on the agenda is a request to spend $10.4 million in stimulus projects on work to weatherize homes of poor people. That spending was held up by the legislative committee earlier this month.

"Her (Wallin's) duty is to punch the keys (for the expenditure) into the state accounting system," said Woodbury, contending the governor does not need approval of the legislative committee on spending any stimulus money.

Wallin said in an interview that she would process all stimulus fund work programs requested by Gibbons as soon as she receives a written directive from Masto that the governor does not need finance committee approval.

Woodbury said the administration does not intend to "snub the IFC" and fail to show up for the Monday hearing, but having to seek committee approval before spending stimulus funds only delays getting money into the hands of people who need it.

During an Aug. 3 meeting, the committee, controlled by Democrats, rejected a request by Gibbons to place the stimulus funds in his office.

In order to have check and balance controls over stimulus funds, the committee voted to place the director in the office of Wallin, who oversees all state expenditures.

Gibbons last Friday challenged the authority of the committee and issued an executive order to hire his own funds director.

Wallin said the dispute has not lessened the flow of stimulus funds to Nevada.

So far the state has received $1.2 billion and spent $615 million, including $310 million for unemployment benefits and $150 million for Medicaid.

But Woodbury said the controller has not processed eight other requests to spend more than $40 million in just-received stimulus funds. Those matters have not been placed on the Monday IFC agenda.

"Are they going to have IFC meetings every week so we can spend the stimulus money?" she asked.

After the Monday meeting, the committee is not scheduled to meet again until Sept. 17.

Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford, D-Las Vegas, has said he would not oppose Gibbons' hiring of his own stimulus czar as long as that person worked with Wallin and the Legislature.

In accepting the job earlier this week, Harvey vowed cooperation with executive branch officials and the Legislature.

He does not formally assume his position until Sept. 1, according to Woodbury, and will not attend the Monday meeting.

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

 

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