CARSON CITY — Score one for Gov. Jim Gibbons. The Legislature’s Interim Finance Committee agreed today to allow the governor to spend $257,000 to hire a federal stimulus fund director and assistant and to spend $10.4 million in stimulus funds on weatherizing the homes of poor people.
Based on an oral opinion of Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto, lawyers for the Legislature also said that the governor in the future can accept and spend American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds without first securing approval of the interim committee.
The committee is a group of 21 legislators who make financial decisions for the entire 63-member Legislature when the Legislature is not in session. The next regular session of the Legislature is in 2011.
The vote today at least temporarily ends a month-long dispute between Democratic legislators and the Republican governor over who controls the state’s $2.2 billion allocation in stimulus funds.
“I don’t want to see any delay in getting these work programs started,” said Assemblyman Bernie Anderson, D-Sparks, following the vote. “I don’t think the public cares anything about the fight going on between the governor and the Legislature.”
Back on Aug. 3, the committee had voted to hire a stimulus director and assistant and place them in the office of Democrat state Controller Kim Wallin.
Gibbons had wanted the coordinator placed in his office. He refused to allow state agency directors to meet with the controller and then 10 days ago issued an executive order that he said gave him the authority to name his own funds coordinator and spend the federal funds.
Last week he named Charles Harvey, a deputy recorder in Clark County, as his stimulus funds coordinator. Harvey takes office in September.
Legislative Counsel Brenda Erdoes said a state law gives the governor the authority to declare an emergency and move to spend money without the interim committee’s approval when needed to protect life or property. Property, in this case, would be stimulus funds.
Erdoes, however, recommended the committee approve the two items on its agenda because Gibbons had not originally stipulated in paperwork submitted to the committee that the items were an emergency matter.
The governor last Friday made that declaration, according to Legislative Counsel Bureau administrator Lorne Malkiewich, but that was too late to add to the agenda and still comply with the open meeting law.
Nonetheless, all Republicans on the committee decided not to vote on either matter.
Based of the Masto opinion, Senate Minority Leader Bill Raggio, R-Reno, said approval of the IFC was not required. “This stimulus money should have been out there working (for the people) for several weeks,” Raggio said. “It has been delayed for several weeks because of this confrontation.”
“We were very proud of the Republicans in the meeting,” added Stacy Woodbury, Gibbons’ deputy chief of staff, following the meeting. “The executive branch has the authority to do what it did.”