Gov. Jim Gibbons is hoppin’ mad at a group of legislators who hijacked his proposed "stimulus czar" position.
He says he plans to take legal action against the members who, acting as the Interim Finance Committee, moved the position of tracking federal stimulus dollars out of his executive Cabinet and into the controller’s office.
The move not only reeks of partisan politics, he says, but threatens to slow the speed at which as much as $2.2 billion in federal money gets distributed by adding another layer of bureaucracy.
"They have to come through me, why not put the doggone guy through me," said Gibbons, who questions the constitutional legitimacy of the committee. "Now we have a more difficult challenge ahead of us."
The fight is over the distribution of money from the federal government’s American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the $787 billion spending plan President Barack Obama signed into law in February.
The state is in line to receive as much as $2.2 billion to spend on everything from unemployments payments to home weatherization projects. To receive the maximum amount possible, state officials need to provide thorough and timely documentation of how the money is used.
Democratic members of the Interim Finance Committee, a group that is charged with approving spending and other financial requests between legislative sessions, say that Gibbons, a Republican, cannon be trusted to oversee the process. So on Monday, they shifted the overseer position to the office of Controller Kim Wallin, a Democrat.
Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford, D-Las Vegas, was quoted as being critical of Gibbons’ personal life and leadership ability. Horsford did not return calls for comment
Assemblywoman Debbie Smith, D-Sparks, said the committee envisioned the position to be less expansive than did Gibbons and more like that of an accountant who would help with technical matters and report spending results.
Smith also said moving the position to the controller’s office adds additional checks and balances because it removes the oversight job from an agency that might be receiving or spending money.
The group also changed the job to a classified position. Candidates for classified jobs need to go through a more thorough, official evaluation to qualify for a position.
Unclassified jobs are appointments from officials, such as the governor, and can be hired and fired at will.
Sen. Bill Raggio, R-Reno, is on the Interim Finance Committee and voted against shifting the job out from under Gibbons.
Raggio, who has disagreed with Gibbons in the past, says the move was a political shot at the governor, as opposed to a decision aimed at efficiently distributing stimulus money.
Raggio said that he supported the notion of moving the job from an unclassified position in the governor’s Cabinet to a classified job in the Department of Administration but that moving it to Wallin’s turf was a step too far.
Under the Department of Administration, the job still would have been under Gibbons, just not as directly as a Cabinet position.
Under Wallin, the stimulus point person would need to go through more layers of government to get work done.
"The governor has to sign certifications the (stimulus) law is being complied with," Raggio said.
If the work is done through Wallin’s office, "He’s got to sign certifications for something that isn’t under his auspices," Raggio said.
"I felt it was inappropriate and unworkable," he added.
According to a list of stimulus point people on the Web site Stateline.org, 34 states have the position under the governor, six states put the job under the legislature or an elected comptroller or controller, two have an unclear chain of command, and four do not have designated czars.
Gibbons says the kerfuffle threatens to delay distribution of stimulus money from 45 to 60 days.
He says he already was developing tracking and distribution procedures that will now be disrupted.
"They put the state in a tenuous position of not being able to help unemployed and working people who need help immediately," Gibbons said.
Although there’s no doubt the dust-up demonstrates dysfunction in the relationship between legislators and Gibbons, it is unclear whether the fight has delayed distribution of money.
Mark Taylor, assistant state controller, says of the maximum $2.2 billion the state could get, $900 million already has been set aside and $500 million of that is already in the system, most of it went to unemployment and Medicaid payments.
"We all knew the stimulus money was coming," Taylor said. "It is certainly not the intent of the controller now that we have this authority to slow down the funds."
But Taylor also acknowledged the Interim Finance Committee vote to move the stimulus oversight job to the controller’s office came without consulting the controller as to how such a move might pan out.
"We’re now scrambling to implement what the Legislature has told us to do," Taylor said.
Smith disagreed with Gibbons that moving the job would cause delays.
"Just because it is in another office does not mean we can’t work together," she said.
By late Thursday, Gibbons had yet to take legal action. But he argues that the state constitution limits the Legislature to one 120-day session every two years unless there is a special session and that the committee does not fall under that authorization. The Legislature founded the committee in 1969.
"If they want to get into a challenge of the legality of what they are doing, it will bring up the constitutionality of the (committee)," Gibbons said.
The committee is covered under state law.
The governor hasn’t sought advice from the attorney general on a challenge but could consult outside attorneys if he were determined to press forward.
Gibbons may also challenge the right of the committee to alter recommendations of the Board of Examiners, a group that includes the governor, secretary of state and attorney general.
The Web site of the Interim Finance Committee says the group "is not bound to follow the recommendation of the State Board of Examiners."
Contact reporter Benjamin Spillman at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-477-3861.ON THE WEB:
See the legal passages related to this article:
• Article 4 of the Nevada Constitution, legislative powers
• Nevada Revised Statutes on the Interim Finance Committee