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Legislators OK creation of stimulus funds manager

CARSON CITY — Legislators today approved hiring a federal stimulus funds manager but decided on a party-line vote to place this person under the control of Democratic state Controller Kim Wallin, not Republican Gov. Jim Gibbons.

The Interim Finance Committee approved spending more than $200,000 in contingency funds to hire a manager and staff to make sure the state properly spends more than $1.5 billion in American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds.

Gibbons had requested hiring staff to oversee the expenditure of the funds last week, but won tentative approval during a Board of Examiners meeting to place the manager in his office.

Most lawmakers on the 21-member finance committee are Democrats and they all voted to place the funds manager under Wallin’s control.

Senate Minority Leader Bill Raggio, R-Reno, raised objections, noting that Gibbons must sign certifications that all federal funds are spent as intended and it made no sense to have the manager working in another office.

If not in the governor’s office, Raggio said the fund manager should be placed within the state budget office, which is closely supervised by the governor.

“I don’t want this to become a personality issue,” Raggio said in an obvious reference to the Democrats’ antipathy toward the Republican governor.

“I didn’t know we were talking about personalities, but the controller’s office or the budget office,” replied Sen. Bernice Mathews, D-Reno.

Rather than putting the funds manager in the governor’s office, Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford, D-Las Vegas, proposed this person be placed in the controller’s office. The controller oversees the payment of state funds and the office employs many accountants.

Assemblyman Marcus Conklin, D-Las Vegas, said the governor put the stimulus funding program together and having the person who oversees expenditures placed in another office would be a “very prudent” check and balance. The manager will serve as a “watchdog eye” to ensure funds are spent correctly, he said.

Conklin said businesses in private industry rarely have the same person who spends the money sign off that the money was spent as intended.

“Citizens are going to find out which office made any errors,” added Assemblywoman Debbie Smith, D-Sparks. “I know the controller has worked a long time on this. This is where we can accomplish the best works.”

The Gibbons administration was not pleased by the switch of the manager to the controller’s office.

“He moved it for pure political purposes and added months to the process,” Gibbons communications director Daniel Burns said about Horsford. “He is the No. 1 guy complaining about delays. We have 168,000 people out of work who we’re supposed to be creating jobs for.”

The Board of Examiners, which is chaired by Gibbons, last week set the annual salary of the funds manager at $120,000. But Horsford said that was too much, suggesting the salary should be $64,000 to $95,000.

The Interim Finance Committee left the salary decision to the controller.

Numerous legislators added that there are many qualified accountants and budget analysts already in state government who can do the job. They said the state did not need to go outside to find a competent funds manager.

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

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