State officials rebut Clark County complaints about proposed child welfare cuts

Officials for Gov. Brian Sandoval on Monday pushed back against complaints from Clark County about proposed cuts to child welfare services.

Department of Health and Human Services Director Mike Willden and senior policy adviser Dale Erquiaga said Clark County officials embellished the state's role in expected cuts to child welfare, saying state support has remained steady and county funding is falling behind.

During the administration's weekly press briefing Willden said he wanted to correct "misinformation about the funding for child welfare" in testimony from Tom Morton, director of Clark County's Department of Family Services, during a legislative hearing on Friday.

Morton described Sandoval's budget as cutting state support for child welfare programs from $44 million to $37.5 million, a difference of about 16 percent.

Willden said Morton was comparing what Clark County requested from Sandoval to the amount the governor set aside in a block grant.

"He presented what they asked for, compared to what we budgeted," Willden said. "That is obviously never a realistic comparison."

He said Clark County's actual spending on child welfare in 2010 was about $40 million.

And when money Sandoval set aside for incentive grants for child welfare is included, the governor's budget includes $42.7 million in fiscal years 2012 and 2013.

"That will be a few million more than they actually spent," Willden said.

In addition to countering Clark County's child welfare funding claims, Erquiaga challenged counties to come up with their own spending proposals if they don't like Sandoval's.

"If they can't live with the cuts then they need to come up with a plan," he said.

Erquiaga also said in recent months counties have stopped short of asking for changes to state law to allow for fiscal home rule, a status that would allow local governments to raise taxes without approval from the state.

"This governor would be happy to talk with them about it," Erquiaga said.

Clark County Commissioner Steve Sisolak said Erquiaga's statement about fiscal home rule was a welcome development and characterized it as a crack in Sandoval's promise to oppose tax increases.

"They recognize the fact he is considering that taxes might have to be raised one place or the other," Sisolak said.

But he added that counties are hesitant to accept the responsibility of fiscal home rule as long as state government has the ability to raid local funds to balance the budget.

Such a setup would allow the governor to use county money to solve his budget problems without having to pay the political price of supporting an increase in taxes, Sisolak said.

"He is just having us raise the property tax so that he can take the money from us and he can spend it," Sisolak said. "It doesn't make any sense."

Contact reporter Benjamin Spillman at or 702-477-3861.