Don’t count on anything special

Recent special sessions have been marked as less-than-special.

But one thing was certain with each of the previous ones. They were necessary.

In 2001, lawmakers went overtime with their political fight over redistricting, requiring a brief session to wrap up the details. In 2002, the medical malpractice crisis forced a brief summer session.

There were two in 2003 to try to sort out the tax mess and one in 2004 to impeach the controller. The last two regular sessions, 2005 and 2007, also went into overtime because, frankly, some lawmakers just don’t have the political will to do what it takes to shut the thing down on time.

Friday’s scheduled special session has none of the above-mentioned necessity. There are no bills still needing approval. No tax deal to reach. No evil-doer to oust or trauma center to get back up and running.

This is a classic power play which will do nothing other than what conservative blogger Chuck Muth aptly calls “kicking the can” down the road to the regular session that starts next February.

Yes, Gov. Jim Gibbons would need the Legislature if he sought to put off the scheduled cost of living increases for public employees. But there appears to be zero interest in doing that. Democratic Speaker Barbara Buckley has declared that idea dead. Republican Senate Majority Leader Bill Raggio has said there’s no support in his house for it. And on Wednesday, Gibbons flip-flopped, saying he would not recommend cutting or delaying the 4 percent COLA raises for teachers and state workers.

The stated reason for the special session was to alter the COLAs. Now all three leaders are saying it’s not going to happen. So why the special session?

On Tuesday the new fiscal year will begin and Nevada will have an estimated $270 million in the bank.

That’s the state’s cash flow. On June 15, two days after the governor called the session, there was $365 million in the bank.

While the economic forecasts are bleak, the state is in no immediate danger of running out of money. Sure, there will be bills to pay, but there’s even more money scheduled to come into the state’s coffers soon regardless of how tax revenue stacks up.

Capital improvement program bonds are being issued in mid-July. By the end of next month, another $180 million will be in the bank. It sure won’t be flush, but the state will probably have more than $400 million at the end of July.

Of course, if the state is anything like my own budget, something could easily come up. Huge increases in gas and food prices didn’t keep my air conditioner from dying this spring. And wildfire season, and who knows what else, could easily cut into the cash on hand.

That’s why the state has a rainy-day fund.

And contrary to what the governor has occasionally said, that money has yet to be tapped or spent.

There is an estimated $276 million in the rainy-day fund, and everyone from the governor’s staff to the Assembly Democrats and the Senate Republicans agrees it’s far better to drain that fund to meet revenue shortfalls than it is to raise taxes.

Even though there is no immediate need for cash, lawmakers may go to Carson City on Friday and pass a law that gives the Interim Finance Committee (IFC) the ability to tap the rainy-day fund. They wouldn’t even really have to take any money out of it to meet immediate needs.

In theory, the IFC is the panel you really want to make that decision anyway. When you have all 63 lawmakers in the mix, you’ll have plenty who have never really even looked at the budget. The IFC is supposedly comprised of those most knowledgeable about the budget. The majority of members come from the money committees or leadership.

So if the unnecessary special session does in fact happen on Friday, it should easily be over by noon.

Of course, some lawmaker might get so incensed at having to go to the capitol for no real reason that he or she might actually open up the long-term debate.

I hear the mining industry is willing to pay more in taxes.

Beyond the insanity of having a real discussion on state revenue policy under the microscope of the upcoming legislative elections, there’s the very real problem with forging any consensus.

Raggio and Buckley have been working to try to come up with something, but Gibbons hasn’t talked to Buckley since June 12 — the day he made no mention of the special session he was to call the next day.

If I were Gibbons, I wouldn’t like Buckley either. Someone who can go toe-to-toe with Raggio would overwhelm the governor. But it’s a mistake to exclude 27 out of 42 votes, even if it is over something as trivial as a special session that isn’t special or even deserving of the word “session.”

Contact Erin Neff at eneff@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2906.

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