Two state agencies refuse to cooperate with budget committee


CARSON CITY -- At the direction of Gov. Jim Gibbons, two state agencies refused Wednesday to provide information to a legislative committee that is reviewing their budgets to determine whether funding can be cut or should be increased.

Sen. Joyce Woodhouse, D-Henderson, said the Housing Division and the Medicaid Compliance Unit refused to answer questions that legislative staff has posed about their budgets. They skipped a Wednesday meeting of the Legislative Committee for the Fundamental Review of State Agencies. Woodhouse, who is seeking re-election, leads the committee.

"They are under the direct control of the governor's office and have been directed not to cooperate," she said.

Assembly Majority Leader John Oceguera, D-Las Vegas, said late Wednesday that he wrote the administration again asking for budget information and awaits a response.

"I think the administration wants to cut state government, but then they are too busy to help us (identify budget reductions)," he said.

Legislative leaders have discussed issuing subpoenas to compel compliance, which "remains an option," Oceguera said.

Gibbons contends the committee lacks legal authority to compel agencies to provide information outside of legislative sessions. He argues legislators already have all of the budget information they need. Members of his staff say legislators have sought ridiculous information, such as what happened to a police dog during a 12-week period when it was deemed not fit for service.

Woodhouse began Wednesday's meeting by citing state law that gives the Legislature authority to compel agency cooperation in budget reviews.

Past governors did not challenge the Legislature's attempts to review agency spending.

But Gibbons has argued that the 21-member Interim Finance Committee, which makes decisions for the 63-member Legislature when it is not in session, is not a constitutional entity. His argument is not a new one, but the interim committee's authority has never been challenged in court.

"All government agencies should be willing to account for the dollars they spend," Woodhouse said. "Like all Nevada families, we must do more with less."

But Robin Reedy, Gibbons' chief of staff, said the administration has asked the committee for proof of its authority to demand information from state agencies between sessions. She said she has not received any such explanation.

"This is all a waste of time," she said. "It is the waste of a committee. Rather than answering us, they would rather say, 'Boo-hoo, the executive branch is holding us up.' "

Daniel Burns, Gibbons' spokesman, called Woodhouse's appointment as chairwoman of the committee an "election-year stunt" to improve her chances of re-election against Republican Michael Roberson.

He said the state agencies Wednesday were "too busy" finding housing for people and administering Medicaid to answer "ridiculous questions."

The Division of Parole and Probation in July refused to attend a meeting of Woodhouse's committee. Housing Division Administrator Chas Horsey did not attend the July meeting and was requested to show up Wednesday.

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

 

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