CARSON CITY -- A proposal by Nevada Gov. Jim Gibbons to merge commissions on economic development and on tourism in this tourist-dependent state bogged down Thursday in a Senate-Assembly budget panel whose members agreed it's a bad idea.
Gibbons' proposal is part of broad efforts to reduce a looming state budget shortfall of more than $2 billion. The biggest savings achieved by the merger would be nearly $300,000 over two years through elimination of the position of Commission on Tourism director.
"This proposed merger ... sounds kind of dumb to me," said Assemblywoman Kathy McClain, D-Las Vegas, echoing opinions of other members of the joint budget subcommittee studying the proposed merger.
While panel members offered no solutions for funding both commissions, they expressed concern that the merger would dilute both agencies' ability to do their jobs and help recruit business and create jobs in the state.
Steve Woodbury, acting director of the tourism commission, said there's little overlap in job functions between the two panels, adding that the organizational chart for the new agency basically replicates the two old organizational charts "side by side."
"The functions, the audiences, the missions are so diverse that we're never going to make a complete combination. It just doesn't make sense," Woodbury added. "But like I said, we would make it work."
Lt. Gov. Brian Krolicki, who chairs both commissions, also spoke against the proposal.
"This merger makes little sense, in fact it makes harmful sense," Krolicki said, adding that the two commissions have "different missions" that would be diminished and hurt economic development and tourism which are Nevada's "bread and butter."
Lawmakers on the budget panel said the state should instead increase its tourism marketing efforts, and do everything it can to attract tourist dollars.
Under Gibbons' proposed budget, the tourism commission faces a 60 percent reduction in funding and would lose a third of its staff.
"Your budget, and I realize its not your fault, lacks vision and general business understanding," Assemblyman Marcus Conklin, D-Las Vegas, told Woodbury. "Those customers that would traditionally come to Vegas are going to be marketed to aggressively by everyone else, while we're sitting here playing tiddlywinks because we don't understand what's going on in the market."
Woodbury said that other states are looking at Nevada's proposed tourism cutbacks as an opportunity to increase their own market share.
"I just wanted to make sure everyone understands that this is a bipartisan concern," said Sen. Warren Hardy, R-Las Vegas. "I think we should figure out a way to spend more, not less ... especially when our No. 1 industry is tourism."
State Budget Director Andrew Clinger said the governor's office asked agencies to submit budget reductions, but then decided some health and human services budgets couldn't be cut too deeply.
"We had to look other places," Clinger said. "That's when we went to agencies like the Department of Cultural Affairs. That's when we went to agencies like the Commission on Tourism, the Commission on Economic Development, looking to areas where we felt we could make cuts, where we're not going to have a direct impact on client services or the education of our children."
Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford, D-North Las Vegas, called the decision to reduce the budgets of both commissions "shortsighted." Asked later where the state could find the money to fund the commissions, Horsford declined to state a specific source or an area of the budget that could be changed.
"There are so many places in the governor's budget that are not strategic," Horsford said. "I can't think of just one thing."