Gibbons seeks ruling on budget cut proposal

CARSON CITY — Gov. Jim Gibbons is seeking legal advice from the attorney general’s office to determine whether formal lawmaker approval of more than $900 million in budget cuts is needed to make them official, a spokesman said Friday.

State Controller Kim Wallin has refused to implement the cuts in her office, citing a legal opinion she received from Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto that states that they must first be approved by the Legislature’s Interim Finance Committee.

Gibbons spokesman Ben Kieckhefer said the governor cannot rely on an opinion issued to another constitutional officer. A legal opinion hopefully will provide guidance on how to resolve the impasse, he said.

Gibbons wants more information before deciding to change precedent and submit the cuts to lawmakers for their approval, Kieckhefer said. Previous governors who imposed budget cuts did not do so, he said.

Because Wallin has not accounted for the 4.5 percent budget reductions required of most agencies and announced by Gibbons in January in the state’s accounting system, agencies are not seeing their funding reduced.

Even so, Josh Hicks, general counsel to Gibbons, said earlier this week that he is confident the agencies are complying with the required spending reductions.

But the issue with Wallin needs to be resolved, he said.

Wallin said Gibbons should get a response quickly because she already has such an opinion. “The law is the law,” she said. “He just needs to follow the law and send the work programs over to the IFC to get expedited approval.”

A work program is a budget change.

The fact that the law, which was adopted in 1979, was not followed by other governors does not establish a precedent, Wallin said.

Assembly Speaker Barbara Buckley, D-Las Vegas, said earlier this week that she does not believe the budget cuts are jeopardized by the impasse either. “But I think the statute is quite clear that work programs must be submitted to the IFC,” she said.

Some of the moves made by Gibbons and lawmakers to balance the current two-year budget will see action by the entire Legislature early next year. The decision to deplete the state’s entire rainy day fund of $267 million, for example, will require action by the full Legislature when it convenes in February.

But other reductions can be approved by the IFC if necessary, which is made up of the seven members of the Senate Finance and 14 members of the Assembly Ways and Means committees. The IFC meets mostly in-between legislative sessions, primarily to make needed modifications to the budgets of the different state agencies.

Sen. Bob Coffin, D-Las Vegas, a member of the IFC, is one lawmaker who has argued the Legislature has a say on any budget cuts. But not all lawmakers agree.

Hicks said, “The case law on this is pretty convoluted.”

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