CARSON CITY -- Eight Republican Assembly members and 28 leaders of conservative and Republican organizations were rebuffed by Assembly Democrats on Friday when they called for creation of a joint legislative Committee on Reduction of Nonessential Government Expenditures.
Conservatives and Republicans asked Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford and Assembly Speaker John Oceguera, both D-Las Vegas, to create the expenditure reduction committee, which they said would operate like a congressional committee in the 1940s and 1950s that cut federal spending.
They also said the committee was recommended by the now-defunct Spending and Government Efficiency (SAGE) Commission that was created by former Gov. Jim Gibbons.
"After two years of failed federal stimulus efforts and government bailouts which delayed the day of reckoning for government spending in Nevada, taxpayers today would be well-served by similar initiatives to adjust the non-stop government growth ethos," they state in a letter.
But Oceguera said there is no way he would create a new committee because it would duplicate what the Assembly Ways and Means and Senate Finance committees already do -- review state spending and propose increases or reductions.
He said that since the summer, a special interim budget review committee has been looking at state agency spending, making recommendations on improving efficiency and proposing cuts.
The budget review committee has held several meetings, although Republican Gibbons instructed state agency directors not to attend or answer questions of legislators. Gibbons contended the committee was unconstitutional and legislators should not be posing questions to state agency heads outside of the 120-day legislative session. The session starts Feb. 7.
"Why would we appoint another committee to do the exact same thing?" Oceguera asked Friday. "Committees take a lot of staff time and resources. It makes no sense that they would want to do spend more money doing what we already are doing."
Horsford, however, was not as dismissive. He called their plan a "good idea."
But he added "it should be on the table as we navigate what amounts to a 35 percent budget shortfall."
Some legislators have maintained that state spending should be about $8 billion to end furloughs, cover caseload growth and properly fund agencies. Available revenues are expected to be about $5.4 billion.
"I do not believe we can cut more than one-third of the state's budget without having a devastating impact on Nevada's children and retirees," Horsford said. "Some things are worth fighting for -- like our kids' education."
Assemblyman John Hambrick, R-Las Vegas, admitted that he doubted all along that Democrats would create the committee, but added that legislators like him believed they at least must try.
"I don't think we are going to convert anybody, but we need to make an attempt," he said. "Everyone has to take a fair look at making reductions."
Assemblyman Ed Goedhart, R-Amargosa Valley, was dismayed by Oceguera's opposition to the budget reduction committee.
"We are trying to do the right thing by the taxpayers," said Goedhart, one of the most conservative legislators. "It is the taxpayers of Nevada who will be burdened (if they don't cut spending)."
He said the reduction committee is needed because the Ways and Means and Finance committees historically have not reduced spending.
If Oceguera and his party won't create the committee or reduce spending, then Goedhart said they are going to have to answer to taxpayers.
While the Democrats hold an 11-10 lead over Republicans in the Senate and a 26-16 lead in the Assembly, Republicans have enough votes to hold off any tax increases as long as they vote as a bloc. It takes a two-thirds vote in both houses to pass taxes, meaning a minimum of 14 votes in the Senate and 28 in the Assembly.
The move to create the reduction committee was led by Chuck Muth, president of Citizen Outreach and a conservative blogger and political consultant who has worked closely with conservative legislators in the Assembly.
"The Nevada Legislature should take at least as much interest in eliminating wasteful government spending as it does in appropriating new spending," Muth said.
Signing the letter were Republican Assembly members Ira Hansen of Sparks, Pat Hickey of Reno, Crescent Hardy of Mesquite, Richard McArthur of Las Vegas, Randy Kirner of Reno, Mark Sherwood of Henderson, Goedhart and Hambrick.
Another signer was Grover Norquist, the nationally known leader of Americans for Tax Reform.
Others included former North Las Vegas Mayor Mike Montandon, Randi Thompson of the National Federation of Independent Business, Mark Ciavola of Right Pride and the UNLV College Republicans, Debbie Landis of Action is Brewing, John Wagner of the Independent American Party and Dan Burdish of the Nevada Business Coalition.
Contact Capital Bureau Chief Ed Vogel at email@example.com or 775-687-3901.