It’s that time again in an odd-numbered year when a journalist’s fancy turns to the big S-word.
Once again, with fewer than three weeks remaining in the constitutionally-mandated 120-day legislative session, there’s nothing to show the public.
There’s no compromise on an education budget, and therefore no budget at all. Because there’s no budget, appropriations to favorite causes can’t be sorted out. And because the legislative and executive branches are falling over themselves to correct a tax break, passed last session, that turned into an unintended multimillion-dollar green giveaway, there’s still no real hard proof of how big the budget should even be.
This is your tax money in Carson City, barreling once again toward a special — with an “s” — session.
There’s no transportation plan to deal with a $5 billion-and-growing deficit to fund highway projects. There’s no clear support for expanding full-day kindergarten to all elementary campuses or trying empowerment schools.
In fact, the percentage of funds earmarked for education could actually go down in this so-called education session with an “education governor” at the budget’s helm.
Viewed from afar, this session has the look and feel of the previous three regular sessions — all of which went into overtime. This is no way to pass laws, let alone set fiscal policy for the state. And yet once again, when money is the central issue, part-time legislators wet their pants at the prospect of voter payback — even though it rarely rears its head.
I have never seen a session end on time. In the first session I covered full time, 2001, lawmakers first unveiled a redistricting plan about 10 days before sine die. This reapportioned the congressional districts and created the new suburban Las Vegas seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. A Texas-size dose of sniveling derailed work that year as everything left in the hopper (namely the budget) got hung up in the horse trading.
Anyone who was in Carson City full time for the 2003 session still suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder. The only thing more contentious than the $833 million in new taxes was the involvement of all three inept branches of government in the fiasco to enact them.
There were no big policy debates about whether the state should broaden its tax base. At the end, policy was based on single sheets of paper that accountants had provided to show which taxes at which rates would produce the targeted number.
When some lawmakers would reject a certain type of tax, it was back to the drawing board to redo the rates and rename the business tax.
In 2005, I spent a few weeks in Carson City watching the frenzy over too much money. It was easy to see how the frothing over tax rebates and tax rollbacks and record spending would send the drunken sailors pitching toward overtime.
In theory, this 2007 session could end in time. The majority of lobbyists and lawmakers still believe it’s possible if a deal is reached by this weekend on the K-12 education budget. And when this weekend comes and goes without a deal, the powers that be will insist it was really just a target — and that after a few days to cool off, the hot heads will come back to the negotiating table.
That’s a lot to hope for with 19 days left — including today.
As of Tuesday, the governor had signed into law just 46 Assembly bills and 11 from the Senate.
Sure, the apparatus of the 120-day session with its deadlines and hopeful benchmarks is in full force, and more bills that have minimal statewide impact will end up on Gov. Jim Gibbons’ desk.
He vetoed perhaps the biggest bill lawmakers sent him — a rushed rescinding of last session’s incentives to encourage environmentally friendly construction projects. Instead, he used the power of the executive order, with the kind of creativity that would make Alberto Gonzales and George Bush smile, to task lawmakers to come up with a more permanent solution.
So there’s green building consensus to build without upsetting the gamers. (MGM Mirage got $80 million in breaks. Who knows about the others?)
Then there’s the highway funding hole to fill without offending the non-Venetian gamers or the Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce, all of whom Gibbons slighted with his late-session proposal to divert future room tax revenue to road building. That solution, by the way, was not presented in bill form — not that there’s a running clock on the session or anything.
All of this is beginning to smell really special. Imagine what Gibbons will have to put on the special session proclamation. It could be everything big that’s still left unfinished today.
If there’s one thing these lawmakers know how to do well, it’s missing the deadline that matters.
They did wrap things up in time once, back in 1999. Since 2001? Six special sessions, four of which were a direct result of lawmakers failing to meet the deadline.
Some may see this as evidence the 120-day deadline doesn’t work. But can you imagine what kind of damage they could do with more time?
There’s another S-word for that, and it sure isn’t “special.”
Erin Neff’s column runs Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday. She can be reached at (702) 387-2906, or by e-mail at email@example.com.ERIN NEFFMORE COLUMNS