What crisis?

The Nevada Legislature has cleared the first of several nonbinding deadlines, a Friday milestone intended to purge the Capitol of hundreds of bills that lacked support in their committees of origin.

With only seven weeks left in the 2009 session and lawmakers nowhere near a budget solution for the next two fiscal years, you’d think that figuring out which offices and services to cut and which to save would become the overwhelming priority in Carson City.

Apparently, Friday’s deadline didn’t send nearly enough legislation to the shredder. So many unimportant bills survived that lawmakers will continue to while away hours on issues that have nothing to do with the state’s finances.

There will be more hearings and votes on bills toughening Nevada’s seat belt law and prohibiting text messaging while driving, never mind that failing to buckle up and pay attention behind the wheel is already illegal.

Meanwhile, joint budget committees are condensing discussions on fiscal priorities for departments that spend billions of dollars into a few hours — budget testimony on welfare programs and higher education will be crammed into a single day later this week.

This approach gives agency chiefs and special interests plenty of time to protest possible cuts but little opportunity to address needed sacrifice. The process is tailor made to favor taxing and spending over cutting and saving.

For nearly a year, members of the bipartisan Spending and Government Efficiency Commission have been scrutinizing the expenses of Nevada government. They have identified hundreds of millions of dollars worth of short-term savings and billions of dollars in long-term changes that could go a long way toward solving legislators’ current budget dilemma. The commission’s work was intended to save legislators the time required to launch their own studies and start talks on cuts sooner rather than later.

Lawmakers have not dedicated nearly enough attention to the commission’s recommendations, especially those that seek to rein in the runaway costs of state workers’ retirement benefits. Instead, the Assembly wasted precious time Monday voting to ban the sale of novelty lighters.

By now, lawmakers should have an absolute command of the state’s core functions and least-needed bureaucracies. They don’t need to wait for updated revenue projections and checks from the federal government to clearly articulate their priorities — what can be spared and what must be eliminated, depending on how much funding is allocated.

To do that, the Legislature must stop dithering over silly bills and focus its efforts on finances. If lawmakers intend to impose massive tax increases upon a rotting economy, they had better begin explaining themselves — today.

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