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Lawmakers planning ‘early start’ on budget

CARSON CITY — Some members of the Nevada Legislature want to get an early look at the upcoming two-year state budget, given the likelihood it will pose the biggest challenge for lawmakers in decades.

Assembly Speaker Barbara Buckley, D-Las Vegas, said Tuesday that the Legislature’s Interim Finance Committee will hold special meetings in late November or early December to hear the latest budget projections and to review agency budget recommendations.

“The purpose is to get an early start on what is a very fiscally challenging time,” Buckley said. “Some of the budget proposals are just beyond my comprehension.”

She said they include such options as “kicking the elderly out of nursing homes and kicking the mentally retarded out of group homes.”

“I just can’t imagine these are true options that can be considered,” Buckley said.

Lawmakers need to hear some details so that they can begin to formulate a response when the session begins in February, she said.

Normally, lawmakers would not begin reviewing the state budget until mid-January.

Ben Kieckhefer, spokesman for Gov. Jim Gibbons, said the governor plans to sit down with legislative leaders after the election to review both the current budget and the outlook for the next spending plan. Gibbons wants everyone to work together to get through this difficult time, Kieckhefer said.

Reviewing agency spending ideas before they are a formal part of Gibbons’ budget would be unusual, Kieckhefer said. But the governor has always been willing to make agency directors available to lawmakers to provide information on the issues they face, he said.

The IFC is made up of the Legislature’s two money committees, the panels that will make many of the decisions on the budget.

Buckley said the cuts in services are being proposed because of the direction by Gibbons to plan for 14 percent spending reductions in the new two-year budget that will begin July 1, 2009. The upcoming budget is expected to have about $6 billion in revenue, well below the $6.8 billion that was originally projected for this year. Revenues for the current budget have come in well below the original estimates made in May 2007.

The state will know by Dec. 1 how much revenue is expected for the next two years.

Buckley said other options to such drastic budget cuts must be considered by lawmakers.

“We need to talk about innovative revenue ideas, go after uncollected taxes,” she said.

The Department of Taxation is cutting staff, yet staff members are needed to collect the tax revenue owed to the state, Buckley said.

Gibbons did propose a tax amnesty program this year that has brought in at least $27million.

Buckley said tax abatements and exemptions that have been approved by lawmakers over the past decades also must be reviewed, given the drastic program cuts being considered for the elderly and mentally disabled, among others.

“It’s time we re-evaluate our priorities,” Buckley said. “That’s what most of Nevada is doing right now.”

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