CARSON CITY — In two weeks, Gov. Jim Gibbons will give lawmakers a two-year spending plan that mirrors the nation’s economic chaos — a plan that may be $2.3 billion below the estimated $8.1 billion needed to maintain current government services.
As Gibbons prepares for his State of the State address on Jan. 15, his budget drafters are asking some agencies for “what-if” plans for cuts that could exceed the 34 percent they’ve already considered.
Asked Tuesday whether some of those cutback plans could reach 50 percent, Budget Director Andrew Clinger said, “You never know.” But he added no specific target has been mentioned, and only a small number of government agencies would be affected.
Clinger said Health and Human Services, public safety agencies, the state prison system and K-12 education are excluded, and they represent more than three-quarters of all state General Fund spending. He didn’t name the agencies that could be affected.
Although the remaining departments and divisions might not be able to significantly lower overall state spending, Clinger added, “We’re just trying to collect all pockets of small savings that we can to help balance the budget.”
The state Economic Forum has projected the state’s revenues for the coming two fiscal years at about $5.8 billion. That’s the figure Gibbons must use unless he recommends some additional sources.
The Republican governor, who has said repeatedly that he opposes new or higher taxes, still has some final budgeting decisions to make prior to his Jan. 15 speech, but Clinger said at this point the proposed spending total should be close to the Forum’s $5.8 billion figure.
That’s far below the $8.1 billion that Clinger says is what the state needs in revenue to cover the cost of maintaining services while accounting for inflation, population growth and other factors that drive up government spending.
“We have enjoyed a good economy for many years and the state has provided Nevada citizens with many things they want and need — but the time has come to separate those two, because we can’t afford to give everyone what they want and we have to look carefully at what we need,” said Gibbons spokesman Dan Burns.
Without a rapid economic turnaround, tax increases are the most obvious source of new funds for the state. Gibbons has said he would veto plans for higher taxes, although he could face an override from the Democratic-controlled Legislature.