Governor, legislative panel in a dogfight


What happened to Hilo?

The question about a former police dog is at the center of yet another dispute between Gov. Jim Gibbons and leaders of the Legislature's Interim Finance Committee.

A subcommittee sought detailed information about Hilo's whereabouts during a 12-week period that began in October when the dog was deemed unfit for service and transferred to Utah.

The dog dispute is an example of what Gibbons and his staff describe as "meddlesome busywork" imposed on overburdened state workers. Now they are fighting back by resisting information requests and questioning the legitimacy of the Interim Finance Committee, which oversees the state budget between 120-day legislative sessions held every other year.

The dog question was the subject of a June 10 e-mail from a legislative analyst, who wanted detailed information on the whereabouts of Hilo, his handlers and a potential pooch replacement.

"Check out this request," Lynn Hettrick, deputy chief of staff to Gibbons, wrote in a forwarding note to chief of staff Robin Reedy and others. "Time to do away with the IFC."

Reedy sent the analyst a detailed description of the committee's history and role, adding, "Is the attached e-mail a joke?"

Gibbons is intensifying his dispute with the panel, which includes members of the Senate Committee on Finance and the Assembly Committee on Ways and Means. In a June 22 letter to two analysts in the Legislative Counsel Bureau, Gibbons said a previous request by one of the analysts took 124 staff hours to fulfill at a cost of $8,312.

"In these dire financial times the Executive Branch simply cannot continue to devote our scarce resources to these wild goose chases," Gibbons wrote.

He also demanded answers to questions about whether the Legislature had the constitutional authority to create the committee and whether the group violates provisions of the Nevada open meeting law.

On Thursday, four leaders from the committee -- Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford, D-Las Vegas; Assembly Majority Leader John Oceguera, D-Las Vegas; Senate Minority Leader Bill Raggio, R-Reno; and Assembly Minority Leader Pete Goicoechea, R-Eureka -- responded: "The power vested in the Governor by the Nevada Constitution does not include the power to disregard acts of the Legislature."

Horsford also defended the detailed questions about Hilo. "Every item we review is about ensuring the fullest level of taxpayer accountability, particularly when we are experiencing a serious shortfall," he said.

But Reedy said, "At some point the micromanaging has got to stop. We all ultimately know either the Legislature has a choice of going through the Department of Justice to try and prove their end or we go through a lawsuit to try and prove our end."

The legitimacy of the committee has been raised repeatedly since it was created in 1969. Gibbons spokesman Daniel Burns on Wednesday indicated the governor is weary of responding to committee requests and is willing to take a formal stand against the group.

"If we pull resources to answer these meddling questions, we're pulling resources from the people the state is trying to serve," Burns said.

At issue is a series of budget reviews being conducted by a six-member subcommittee the committee created in April.

Legislative leaders say the reviews are critical for the Legislature to be prepared for the 2011 legislative session and expected budget shortfall of about $3 billion.

And they appear poised to do what it takes to get the information. The panel "has the power to issue subpoenas," the leaders wrote to Gibbons.

"Such subpoenas are enforceable in the District Court, and the failure to obey ... is punishable by fines and imprisonment," they added.

Others agree such reviews are well within the bounds of committee authority.

Lorne Malkiewich, director of the Legislative Counsel Bureau, pointed to a 1995 law that lists Hettrick among its sponsors and sets out the authority for such reviews.

Since the law was enacted, there have been three reviews, the most recent between the 1999 and 2001 sessions, Malkiewich said.

"I don't think there is any question there is authority for this," he said.

Committee decisions keep state money moving between legislative sessions. Without that group to accommodate price increases, compensate for flawed revenue projections and cope with surprises, the Legislature could be called back to Carson City to settle every unexpected change in fiscal circumstances. That is how Nevada did business before the committee was created.

Now, the committee makes adjustments based on requests from the Board of Examiners, a group that includes the governor, secretary of state and attorney general.

But the state constitution says any legislative action outside the 120-day legislative session "is void, unless the legislative action is conducted during a special session convened by the Governor."

It has been widely discussed but never adjudicated.

"One of the reasons IFC has never been challenged is it works so well," Malkiewich said.

Contact reporter Benjamin Spillman at bspillman@reviewjournal.com or 702-477-3861. Capitol bureau chief Ed Vogel contributed to this article.

 

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